Shawn Robinson was, frankly, underwhelming through two starts in 2018. In fact, little about the first three starts told TCU fans, with any certainty, that he was going to be a star.
After quarterbacking DeSoto to a state championship as a senior, the Texas Gatorade Player of the Year had the pedigree, the stars, and the tape to tell you he had the talent. He arrived at TCU as an early-enrollee amid much fanfare, the heir-apparent to Kenny Hill, the (then) highest-rated quarterback recruit to sign with Horned Frogs.
As per usual, Robinson became the most popular player on TCU’s team - the backup quarterback. Some fans clamored for him to usurp Hill as the starter, and though he didn’t do that (and shouldn’t have - Hill was really good in 2017), he did get his chance to showcase his skills in that role when Hill went down the week before the Frogs traveled to ?Texas Tech.
In the bitter cold and swirling winds, Robinson was just okay; completing 6-17 passes for 85 yards and one score while running for another 84. Robinson ran roughshod over the Red Raiders, and as a passer, overcame the elements and a couple bad drops by his receivers to lead the Frogs to a win. It was a sign of things to come, but also proof that he wasn’t quite ready as a true freshman to win the job outright.
Justin Rogers joined the fold in January, but coming off of a severe injury suffered early in his senior season, was not ready to push Shawn for the job. A new competitor emerged, though, in the form of Penn transfer Michael Collins, another strong-armed QB with a high football IQ that Gary Patterson constantly reminded us “moved better than you think”. It was neck and neck all spring, as neither signal-caller stood out positively or did much negatively to prove they were “the guy” heading into fall camp.
While Michael Collins was a worthy adversary, most fans believed it was just a matter of time before Shawn was named the starter. As fall camp broke, that was indeed the case. And while he possesses all of the natural ability to be great, what separates him is his work off the field, not what he does on it. And that comes from his parents, according to Coach Patterson. “Both of his parents are coaches. They’re both really good coaches. One’s a women’s basketball coach, and his dad is a football coach. He comes from one of those kind of families. All he’s got to do is learn. He’s one of though guys that, even when he talks to you guys, when he comes out of the media, he talks to Mark, the S.I.D. here, and he says “What could I say better?” He’s one of those guys that just wants to get better.”
One of those guys that just wants to get better.
That’s exactly what you want to hear about your QB.
And Robinson did just get better. The season opener against Southern was dominated both through the air and on the ground by the sophomore, who racked up five scores in a half by way of a trio of passing touchdowns and a pair of running - including a powerful 36 yarder that had fans breathless.
But that was Southern, and folks weren’t sold.
Less than a week later he was back at it, facing his second game hindered by weather-elements in three career starts. It was a balmy, rainy night in Dallas when Robinson took the reigns against SMU, and after completing more than 70% of his passes in the opener, his completion rate dropped to 55% as the Frogs struggled out of the gate to put away a motivated Ponies team. But he recovered, throwing for a score and running for another, compiling a season-high 67 yards on the ground and helping TCU pull away late.
Now 2-0, TCU faced the biggest test yet, an Ohio State team lauded for their defensive front and offensive firepower. On the biggest stage, with the brightest lights, Robinson put forth the best effort of his fledgling career, matching the Buckeyes blow for blow and proving he can play at a high level. Though a trio of mistakes will be what many remember, it was his response to those moments that stood out to me, and to his coach. “Well, the best thing that I saw, sometimes young players, they get glazed over. When things bad happen to them, their eyes glaze over. That never happened to Shawn.” And it didn’t. Robinson had an ease about him that you don’t often see in young players in big moments - he was loose, smiling, encouraging... never once did he look scared or overwhelmed. He made mistakes, sure - the interception on the shovel pass, was, as Patterson put it “probably our fault”, inferring that it was as much a bad decision by the coaches as the player, while the second pick was just “a horrible read” according to the QB. As far as the strip sack - that’s just a really good defensive player making a really good play.
Robinson completed 60% of his passes for 308 yards, the first 300 yard game of his career. He survived 2-3 brutal drops, threw a touchdown, and used his feet in and out of the pocket effectively - though Patterson would have like to see him run more. “A couple times I told him, “You need to run.” They slanted everybody across and there was nobody on the third down. [Kavontae] Turpin dropped it. He could have run for the first down. You got to make judgments.” But he threw the deep ball much better, found his best receiver multiple times, and got different guys involved. He was better than good enough for the first time in his career, and put his team in a position to win.
And the best part about it? He wasn’t nearly satisfied with his performance.
“I have to be better. There were those two plays that I just can’t do. On the first one, the option, the D end made a great play. Still we can’t do it. And the interception was just a horrible read. For the game, we came out and played hard. We just didn’t get it done.”
Coach Patterson talked post game about how badly Shawn Robinson wants to win. It was written all over the young man’s face when he took his turn at the mic. According to Patterson, that comes from within, from his mindset and mentality when it comes to how he plays quarterback and how he functions within his team. It’s not about him, it’s about wins. “Anytime you got a “we” player on your team, a guy that’s a “we,” he doesn’t care about “I,” he doesn’t care about completions, touchdowns, he just cares about winning, then you’re going to have an opportunity later on for us to be a really good football team, not just this year, but going forward.”
Heading into the conference opener at Texas, the first time Shawn will be the starting quarterback in this rivalry - one TCU has dominated the last four years - TCU fans can be confident that their offensive leader will be better than he was a week ago, though not as good as he will be two weeks from now. Robinson is the kind of guy who doesn’t make the same mistake twice, something that we have seen play out over the first four starts of his career. Coach Patterson doesn’t have to tell him he has to play better, because he has likely been telling himself just that. “ I’m proud of the group. I think they’re good guys. They’re going to be -- I promise you, the two guys that are coming in here (Robinson and Ben Banogu) are going to be harder on themselves than I could be or you could be.”
That’s the kind of mentality that will enable TCU to win a lot of football games, to compete for conference championships, to continue to reach for the top of that pyramid. It will carry them forward as they begin Big 12 play. And right now, Shawn Robinson is exactly the guy they should be following.
We will have plenty of time to think about what Justin Rogers and Max Duggan will bring to this team, but in 2018, the ball is Shawn’s. And that should have TCU Football fans excited about what this season can be.