BOWL COVERAGE: Freshman Amik Robertson has joy covered

Dec. 18, 2017

By Teddy Allen teddy@LATech.edu

FRISCO, Texas — Every day is like Christmas morning for this football-happy guy playing cornerback on Louisiana Tech’s DXL Frisco Bowl team, a 6-6 bunch scheduled to duke it out with 7-5 SMU Wednesday night at 7 in modern but quaint and cozy Toyota Stadium.

Do you know him? If you don’t, you will. He’s a true freshman playing a position people wisely call an island. It’s impossible to miss the cornerbacks, out there all by themselves. That’s a good thing.

That way, you can see Amik Robertson better.

Watch him after he’s broken up a pass targeted for an opposing wide out, telling the receiver how nice his jersey looks, or how much he likes his helmet — or something like that. Watch him after practice, him and sophomore L’Jarius Sneed, practicing unrehearsed tight coverage, one being the receiver, the other the corner. Watch him in warmups, playing as if it’s the fourth quarter.

He’s a toddler playing in a sandbox: the only difference is the purpose.

Outside of winning, the bottom line is the fun.

“He’s a competitor, from deep down inside,” said Tech strength and conditioning coach Kurt Hester. “He has that need to compete. But if I would say just one thing about him, it would be that he loves the game. To him, football’s fun. Lifting? Fun. Training? Fun. Practice? It’s all fun. He just loves football. None of this, not any of it, is work to him.”

It’s not hard to see the joy Robertson brings to the craft, one he’s learning fairly efficiently. There was his first career interception and tackle-for-loss in the second game of the season and of his career, a loss to Mississippi State.

“My confidence went up,” he said. “I felt I could do this. Then I looked at the film and saw we had a lot of miscommunication, saw a lot of mistakes. But I felt maybe some people saw, ‘This kid is truly good.’

 

 

“At the end of the day,” he said, “I’m my own worst critic.”

“He comes to work,” said corners coach Kevin Curtis. “He’s always asking questions if he doesn’t fully understand. Some guys will say, ‘OK,’ shake their heads, move on. Amik writes things down. He’s smart; he’s mature. But add that to this: he’s going to do the work.”

At 5-6, the Bulldogs had to win the regular-season finale against UTSA to become bowl eligible and make the possibility of this trip to Frisco a reality. They did win, 20-6. It was a Robertson interception in the end zone that iced it.

“The taller receiver was on my side,” Robertson said. “They’d already tried the fade before. Now they have me, the smaller cornerback, against their taller guy. But they didn’t know I have a vertical jump. I’m telling them, ‘Don’t do it.’ Shaking my head, ‘No.’”

Snap. Pass. Interception by Robertson, at the top of his jump, in front of the UTSA receiver. “Yes.”

“I felt it was disrespectful,” he said. “That’s why Tech recruited me; to make plays.”

Plenty of people recruited him. LSU offered. So did Texas and Oklahoma State. He even committed to Tech and de-committed on Dec. 20 last year, the same date as this year’s DXL Frisco Bowl. But he came back, he said, because the Bulldogs showed him “the most love.”

“I knew at Tech, it was going to be all about ball,” said Robertson, who is taking courses in mechanical engineering and business management. “You can’t just go out and party and whatever and be good. And I didn’t want to go home all the time and get off track; it’s five-and-a-half hours to Thibodaux.”

At Thibodaux High, he was a wide receiver, running back, sometimes-quarterback, defensive back and kick returner. He was Class 5A All-State and the regional MVP. All that at a charm bracelet-sized 5-9, 170.

“He’s more dialed-up than most,” Curtis said. “And I wouldn’t change a thing.”

As good as he was in high school, as many offers as he had, Robertson did not figure to start as a true freshman. Michael Sam was recruited last winter out of Trinity Valley Community College to be a starter, but injuries limited him to time in the first two games only before he was out for the season. One corner spot has seen different starters — mainly junior Aaron Roberson early and Sneed late — but Robertson has dug in at the other.

“After high school I studied film, did what I was supposed to do,” he said. “At Tech, they teach that’s it about experience; I’d never played a college snap. So when I got the starting job, I kind of expected it, but I didn’t expect it.”

He ended up having the biggest impact this season of any other Tech freshman, about as steady as any freshman could be. He has four interceptions — he’s one of only four true freshmen in the country with at least four interceptions — and his 6.5 tackles-for-loss is second best on the team. He was first team All-Freshman C-USA and second team all-league overall.

“Wanted first team,” he said. “Wanted All-America. Let it slip through my hands. Next year, people are going to see a totally different Amik Robertson.”

Remember, he’s his own worst critic.

“Amik’s a joy,” head coach Skip Holtz said. “Loves to play. And there’s (receiver) George Scott and (defensive back) Jaiden Cole: another pair of true freshman who have done a nice job and who we’ve really needed.”

Scott was thrown into the mix when Alfred Smith, who started last year as a redshirt freshman, was hurt during pregame of the season opener. A prep star who led Neville High to back-to-back state titles, Cole, who the coaches compare to Dallas Cowboys rookie Xavier Woods when it comes to football smarts and maturity, was the first man up when Reggie Cleveland and Sam went down; Cole’s been valuable on special teams and in occasional secondary action.

“Everybody got to watch Amik and Jaiden and Scott,” Holtz said. “But another thing that excites me is some of these guys who are redshirting. Carlos (Henderson) did. Jalen Ferguson. Jonathan Barnes. Sometimes you don’t have the opportunity to see them, but some of those guys who are sitting out now are going to be really good.

The role call includes guys like these:

Linebacker Tristen Allen, 6-4, 225, Atlanta High in Atlanta, Texas;

Wide receiver Griffin Hebert, 6-3, 200, St. Thomas More in Lafayette;

Offensive lineman Joshua Mote, 6-3, 275, Oak Grove High in Oak Grove;

Wide receiver Cualan Williams, 6-3, 205, Lafayette County High in Stamps, Ark.;

And defensive end Milton Williams, 6-4, 230, Crowley High in Crowley, Texas.

There will be more. Probably more. Maybe even an Amik. Because you never know...

“There’s a lot of talent in that class,” Holtz said. “You’ll start hearing their names more when we get into spring practice. Now they’ve had a couple of weeks of bowl practice, too; we’ll see what they’ll do next year as redshirts.”

For active players, the time is now. And “now” is Wednesday night when everyone will have a chance to see how Robertson and his teammates will do against SMU and the nation’s No. 8 scoring offense. Robertson, No. 21, at corner, will be easy to spot.

“Do your job and trust one another,” is what Robertson figures to be the best chance of success for his team, a five-point underdog. “When it gets tough, keep on fighting. Stay focused. And most importantly, don’t give up.”

Almost forgot this: not many guys are named after their moms. Amik is: it’s “Kima,” his mom’s name, spelled backward. Which means the only thing not moving forward for this guy is his name.

“I don’t know man,” he said.“Growing up, I didn’t like it. I love it now...something about it’s special.”

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