By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
Eddie Robinson Jr. visited the campus of his alma mater as a conquering hero in the fall of 2021. He was twice inducted into the inaugural class of the Alabama State University Hall of Fame, going in individually as a standout linebacker and collectively as part of the 1991 team, the Hornets’ best ever.
Robinson – no relation to legendary Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson – is back on the Montgomery campus this fall, but his role is different. The former player is now the head coach, having replaced Donald Hill-Eley.
It is Robinson’s first go-round as a collegiate head football coach, but he said he is not a newcomer to supporting the Hornets’ push for success.
“I feel like I’ve always been following it,” he said. “I just wasn’t the guy pressing buttons. But like I tell everybody, for us to win championships, it’s not just the head coach. It’s everybody – the president, AD (athletic director), players, faculty, staff, fans. We’ve all got to contribute. I felt like I’ve always been in the fight, so to say.”
Alabama NewsCenter is taking a look at the upcoming football season. Today the focus is on Alabama State.
Alabama NewsCenter (ANC): What are the prospects for this season?
Eddie Robinson: I know it’ll be a competitive team. In my mind, there’s no way I’m thinking we’re going to be a bad team. It’s just a matter of how good are we gonna be? Our goal is 100 percent to win championships. I feel like we have the people in place. It’s football. You can’t control how that ball bounces sometime. Yeah, we need a little bit of luck here and there, like everybody does. But I feel like with the people we have in place, the coaching staff, I want us to be a program that competes for the championship every year. I don’t want us to ever be, ‘We’re just trying to get better for the next year.’ I don’t think nobody has an appetite for that. Nor do I. The players understand it, the coaches understand it. Faculty, staff, administration, president — everybody’s on the same page. We want to compete and win championships and we want to do it on a consistent basis. You can’t go into it saying we’re trying to improve. At that point, all you’re going to do is improve. You don’t win championships.
ANC: What is the strength of this year’s team?
Robinson: We’ve got a veteran offensive line. Those guys all have a lot of starts. A lot of them started as freshmen during that COVID year. Then they started again last year. They were really banged up last year. (The former coach) only had six or seven healthy guys when he finished the season. You can imagine an O-line with seven healthy guys. But you had a lot of young guys that had to play and get experience. I think those guys, we’re gonna be as good as they’re gonna be. If we can run the football — and we want to — and if we can pass-protect and give our quarterbacks time to throw and let the receivers get open, we’ll be a really good team. It’ll really disappoint me if that’s not the fact. We have a really good group of running backs and a really good offensive line. That’s gonna be the calling card, run the football and play great defense, play great special teams, be smart from the quarterback position.
ANC: Who are your team’s standouts?
Robinson: I think you’ve got to start with the O-line. You’ve got Robert Alston, who’s a returning starter, man, and he’s a preseason all-conference guy. You’ve got Samuel Blackshear at center, a lot of veteran guys up there. Taurrian Stafford is at offensive guard. I think those are the guys that we’re anticipating making those plays for us. In the backfield, we’ve got Jacory Merritt. He’s a local kid, went to high school here in Montgomery and has just been waiting this time and playing behind one of our greats in Ezra Gray. Now it’s his time to step up and be the guy. Then you’ve got Santo Dunn, who was the Conference Player of the Year for Morehouse in the SAIC. You add him into the mix and I think the offensive line and the running backs are going to pretty much determine what kind of season we have, in my opinion.
ANC: What game(s) do your fans have circled on your schedule?
Robinson: When you look at the whole 11 games, it always starts with the Magic City Classic. I mean, there ain’t no classic like the Magic City Classic. I think no matter how we start or stop, Alabama State folks, they want to win that damn Classic, and we haven’t won it in a couple of years. (Actually, four losses in a row with two defeats in 2021). We’re gonna start with the Classic and then we’ll work our way from there. Outside of that, with homecoming we’ve got Jackson State coming to Montgomery. Naturally, just the sound of that sounds like a big game. Then there’s FAMU and Bethune-Cookman. We’ll take them one at a time.
ANC: What is your lingering question?
Robinson: Can we finish the games? You look at the games last year, for the most part, in the first half we were in every game. Some games we were up and we couldn’t finish. Some games we were right there, parallel or down a little bit, and then we ended up falling off at the end. To me, I think the biggest thing for us is, can we finish ballgames?
Alabama NewsCenter is posting season previews for all 16 college football programs in Alabama. Read previews for Jacksonville State University and the University of North Alabama, and look for a new preview each weekday.