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Storybook Ending

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Vince Marrow knew if all went well it was going to be a one-and-done deal with Wan’Dale Robinson.

The former Kentucky Mr. Football/Paul Hornung Award winner had originally committed to Kentucky but later the Western Hills High School star flipped to Nebraska. Robinson had two solid years there but was used a lot more at running back than the receiver ever anticipated.

Marrow, UK’s recruiting coordinator and associate coach, never lost touch with Robinson. Even when many Kentucky fans were upset with Robinson for flipping to Nebraska, Marrow wished him good luck and welcomed him back to UK for the 2021 season when he wanted to transfer back home.

“One we got (offensive coordinator) Liam (Coen) and then (quarterback) Will (Levis), Wan’Dale just banked on his abilities,” Marrow said. “He believed in himself and bet on himself.”

Robinson set single-season records in receiving yardage (1,334) and receptions (104) during UK’s 10-win season. He had seven touchdown catches, the most by a Kentucky receiver since La’Rod King in 2011.

That was enough for Robinson to bet on himself again and put his name into the NFL Draft where he was rewarded when the New York Giants made him the 43rd overall pick. The second-round selection puts him in line to earn over $8 million the next four years with a $3.1 million signing bonus.

“This was his dream,” Marrow said. “His dad made a good point when he told me before the draft that at the end of the day it did not matter if it was third or fourth round, it had been his dream just to play in the NFL. That’s why you had to 100 percent support Wan’Dale’s decision to put his name in the draft.

“Since I was 5 years old, that’s been a moment that I’ve been dreaming about my whole life,” Robinson said after his selection last week. “To have it all come to life, I can’t even put into words how I was feeling. It was great, though.”

Marrow said Robinson’s 40-yard dash of 4.36 seconds at the NFL combine elevated him to second-round status.

“If he had run 4.5, then it would have been third round or maybe even fourth round,” Marrow said. “I knew that 4.3 changed everything. Everybody had been doubting the kid because of his size but he thrives on people putting him down and he tore up the SEC. This kid is just a football player. I thought he might even go late in the first round and definitely was going in the second round.”

It was a touching moment for the Robinson family when the UK receiver was drafted. His father, Dale, was in prison for most of his son’s youth. Dale Robinson got out of prison as his son emerged as one of the state’s top high school football players and became his son’s trainer and constant supporter/advisor.

Marrow said seeing the father and son embrace after being picked in the NFL draft was a touching moment.

“His dad spent some time in prison. You have got to take your hat off to him, Dale is a good father and a really good role model,” Marrow said. “That father-son relationship came to fruition and is wonderful to see.”

Marrow always had a good relationship with Robinson as well as his mother and father. The UK associate coach even understood why the star receiver changed his mind about attending Kentucky. The Cats won 10 games in 2018 during Robinson’s final high school season but it was in a run-oriented offense,

“When he told me he was going to decommit, it was like telling a family member.  I was kind of upset but I understood the kid was a playmaker and at the time we were not throwing the ball very well,” Marrow said. “The other school sold him all this stuff about giving him the ball and getting all these touches and then he went and played running back and almost got killed.

“He took a lot of flack when he de-committed but I tweeted out then I wished him well and still loved him because I knew it was a hard decision. But everything came back full circle. He caught over 100 balls to get us to a 10-win season and now he’s on to the NFL. That’s a storybook ending to his journey.’

Larry Vaught
Larry Vaught is a seven-time winner of the Kentucky Sportswriter of the Year award and has covered University of Kentucky sports since 1975. Larry now has a syndicated UK sports column appearing in 34 newspapers across the state as well as, and Larry also joins Mark Buerger and Anthony White on WLAP Sunday Morning Sports each week in Lexington as well as appearing each Tuesday with Tom Leach on The Leach Report.

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