Former Florida wide receiver Demarcus Robinson felt horrible informing his teammates he’d been suspended because he smoked marijuana. Telling his mother was heartbreaking.
‘‘She always came to every game,’’ Robinson said.
But having to call and tell his big-name uncle — former Bears receiver Marcus Robinson — was the most difficult. Marcus has been not just a father figure but a living guide as Demarcus follows his own dream of playing in the NFL.
“He never had a drug problem,’’ Demarcus said. ‘‘He had never had any suspensions. He didn’t fall into that trap. I actually did. It was just really tough telling him and having him know that.’’
After his tumultuous run at Florida, which included three suspensions his freshman year for marijuana and one last season for violating curfew, Robinson has joined his uncle and his family in their far northwest suburban home. He’ll be taking part in the NFL’s scouting combine this week in Indianapolis. Scouts see high-round potential on the field, but his past problems off it mean he’ll have to win teams over in interviews.
Robinson knows his draft stock depends on that, and he wants to prove he’s not a problem-in-waiting for a team. That’s why he’ll stay in the area until he gets drafted —
literally under his uncle’s roof.
He signed with Marcus’ old agent, Ken Sarnoff, and is spending six days a week working with respected trainer Elias Karras of EFT Sports Performance in Highland Park.
‘‘People think a guy that smokes marijuana, that all these boys are thugs, they’re rude or they don’t really care,’’ Marcus Robinson said. ‘‘But he’s, ‘Yes, sir. No, sir.’ It’s not fake. It’s genuine.’’
Marcus insists that’s not just an uncle talking. He helped raise Demarcus, whose father died when Demarcus was 2, but their relationship was limited to phone calls when Marcus played in the NFL. He admits he was unsure of what to expect when his 21-year-old nephew took over his guest room for weeks.
‘‘When you look at his history with Florida, you would think he’s unruly,’’ Marcus said. ‘‘You would think that he’s going to be a certain way. What I hope [NFL teams] realize is that he is not. He’s a genuine, smart, understanding kid.’’
Former Bears WR Marcus Robinson (left) watches film with his nephew, Demarcus Robinson. (For the Sun-Times)
So what happened at Florida? Robinson said going from Fort Valley, Georgia, a small town of fewer than 10,000 people, to a renowned party school was a culture shock. He went from never being around drugs to seeing them everywhere.
‘‘When I started doing it, I was doing it for all the wrong reasons: everyone else was,’’ Robinson said. ‘‘It was a horrible time. I wasn’t thinking.’’
Robinson turned to then-Gators coach Will Muschamp for help and went to rehab for 45 days. During his sophomore season, he was tested for marijuana twice a week. His junior year, it was twice a month.
‘‘I haven’t smoked since my freshman year,’’ he said.
The curfew violation? Robinson will have to answer for that at the combine, too. He described it as a ‘‘stupid mistake” — he wasn’t at a party or anything — but realizes he shouldn’t have pushed his timing. New Florida coach Jim McElwain made an example of him, suspending him for the season finale against Florida State. But his teammates voted him back on for the Southeastern Conference title game against Alabama.
There aren’t questions about Robinson’s on-the-field abilities. He was Florida’s best receiver the last two seasons, leading the team in receptions despite changes at quarterback. Karras, who has trained college, NFL, NBA and MLB players since 1995, expects Robinson to impress at the combine.
‘‘Athletically, the kid is a freak,’’ Karras said. ‘‘He’s very gifted. He’s a fast-twitch, explosive type of athlete. Football comes natural to him.’’
Marcus Robinson said his nephew should be better than he was, comparing Demarcus’ abilities to those of New York Giants star Odell Beckham Jr.
‘‘My [11-year-old] son looks up to my nephew, and he’s in awe,’’ Marcus said. ‘‘He looks at me now as, ‘Oh, you’re just Dad.’ ”
Some direction is all Demarcus needed.
‘‘[My uncle is] always hard on me,’’ he said. ‘‘He wants me to go and be better than him.’’
Florida WR Demarcus Robinson (center) with head trainer Elias Karras (second from right) at EFT Sports Performance. (For the Sun-Times)
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