The Ball Boy
Feb. 24, 2010
By Larry Watts
Had Brian Robiskie not taken one more college visit, he may never have played a down of football for Ohio State. And who knows what direction his career may have gone?
“I had already committed to Miami (Fla.),’’ says Robiskie, who was wrapping up his senior year at Chagrin Falls (Ohio) High School at the time. “Let me tell you, south Florida is a little different than Cleveland at that time (January) of the year. I liked the coaches and what they were doing, so I told them I was all set to go.
“But just to make sure about my commitment to Miami, I went down to Ohio State the following week. They hadn’t shown much interest in me at first, but by this time they had moved some things around and they had an opening at wide receiver.
“It was 20 degrees and there was snow on the ground, just like back in Cleveland,’’ he added. “I started talking to the coaches and they told me what I could do for them and what they could do for me off the field and in the classroom. Their business school was something I was really interested in, so I thought it would be a better fit and de-committed from Miami.’’
By the time he graduated with a degree in marketing in 2009, the Academic All-American had established himself as one of the top receivers in the nation. He stands eighth all-time in career receptions (127) and 10th in yardage (1,866) for the Buckeyes. His 55 catches for 937 yards in 2007 rank 10th and 11th, respectively for a single season. He is also fourth in touchdown receptions for a career (24) and single season (11).
“Because I moved to Ohio as a freshman (in high school), I didn’t go crazy like everyone else when the Ohio State fight song was played and it really wasn’t my dream to play in Columbus,’’ he says. “Since my dad was with the NFL, I had always followed the pros and never got caught up in college football. It was beautiful to be different, but my appreciation for Ohio State grew once I went there.’’
Robiskie’s father, Terry, is currently the wide receivers coach with the Atlanta Falcons and has been coaching in the NFL for 29 years following a five-year career as a running back for the Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins. The elder Robiskie has coached with five different teams, including stints as both offensive coordinator and interim head coach for the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns.
“My father has probably been the biggest sole influence on me football-wise and as a male role model,’’ says Robiskie, who worked as a ball boy with the Browns during three training camps. “There were so many things he could tell me about football — what to do on the field, how to get ready to play the game and how to prepare myself for a certain team. I know with his schedule and my schedule it was hard to sit and talk, but he would always take the time to make sure I was on the right track.
“One of the big reasons I became a ball boy was so I could spend more time with him. I could go out on the field, see how the pro athletes worked and apply those things to myself. Fridays were the days they usually broke early during the season, so he would be out there at night watching me play. But what I really enjoyed seeing was how much his players responded to him and the respect they showed him.’’
When he started playing football in seventh grade, Robiskie was a tight end/running back. But as he started growing taller and didn’t gain much weight, he got switched to wide receiver by the time he reached high school, where he gained first team all-state honors as a senior.
“Since my dad coached receivers, I was always going out there running the same patterns as the pros,’’ he says. “In seventh and eighth grade, it’s a little tough to complete those passes. But when I got to high school, where they had a quarterback who could throw it, it became natural for me.’’
During his four-year stint at Ohio State, the Buckeyes won the Big Ten title outright once and shared it three times. They played in four bowl games and twice played for the national championship, losing to Florida in Robiskie’s sophomore season and LSU when he was a junior.
“Even with losses in the national championship games, those were two unbelievable seasons,’’ he says. “It’s a testament to how good our teams were just to make it there, but we didn’t finish the way we had hoped. Still, to win the Big Ten Championship every year was a great achievement.’’
After mainly serving on special teams his freshman season, Robiskie became more of an integral part of the Buckeye offense in 2006. Quarterback Troy Smith had a number of future NFL receivers to choose from at that point.
“I was very fortunate to have played with Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez,’’ Robiskie says. “It was so much easier to watch and learn from those guys.’’
Robiskie’s production went down in 2008 (42 catches, 535 yards) when freshman Terrelle Pryor became the Buckeyes’ quarterback.
“It was disappointing only because as a receiver you want to get the ball and make all the catches,’’ he says. “But at the same time, you can’t let that affect what you’re doing on the field and you have to do whatever you can to win. We were trying to do some different things in the running and passing game, so it was a chance for me to show the NFL scouts I could run different routes and make different blocks.’’
The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder was the fourth pick in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He gathered with family and close friends in Atlanta to hear the news and his father managed to arrive just in time from the Falcons’ headquarters to hear the selection. The younger Robiskie even bought dinner for the group.
“We went out and got crawfish,’’ he says with a laugh. “We just sat on the deck and ate while listening to the rest of the draft.’’
Was it a dream to be drafted by the local team?
“It was just a dream to get drafted; it didn’t matter which team or what place,’’ he says. “It was special to be drafted by Cleveland, but what made it more special was being able to share the moment with family and friends.’’
His rookie season turned out to be more of a learning experience. He spent four games on the inactive list and suffered a high ankle sprain in the next to the last game. He wound up with seven receptions for 106 yards, but his 15.1-yard average per catch ranked second on the team.
“A lot of people thought with my father being a coach that this would be an easy transition for me,’’ he says. “But there is a real difference from hearing someone tell you what to do and actually going through it. There are things every rookie has done and I have to do them, take it forward and go on to next year.
“One of the biggest adjustments is the mentality. You play in the same system in college, where it doesn’t change from year to year. But in the NFL, things can change from week to week. You have to adjust and then go out and do it on the field.’’
With Mike Holmgren coming in as president and the fact the Browns won their last four games after a 1-11 start, Robiskie is looking forward to the future.
“I learned as much as I could last year,’’ he says. “Now I know what to expect and I have to take what I learned into the coming season. All of our coaches will be back, so I know their expectations and I think I’ll have a leg up.’’
Having compiled a 3.54 grade point average while at Ohio State, Robiskie was awarded an $18,000 post-graduate scholarship from the National Football Foundation. However, he says he hasn’t given it much thought as to when he will use it.
“Marketing is such a broad major and you can take that into many different directions,’’ the 22-year-old says. “I’ll just wait until I find something that interests me. I set up my goals by the season and right now I’m shifting my focus to get ready for 2010. I’m more into the right now than five or 10 years down the road.
“At some point I will figure out what I want to do with the post-graduate work. It will be sooner rather than later, but I have time.’’