Less than five minutes left, down five with the season on the line. Second and 10 from their own 36 yardline, Hobart quarterback Patrick Conlan threw to Troy Robinson for a gain of 18. Four plays later, on second and 23, Conlan went back to Robinson for a gain of 22, a drive-saving grab. Two plays later, Hobart scores. Final score: Hobart 24, Johns Hopkins 21.
On each of his big catches in the NCAA Division III second round playoff game Saturday, Robinson, a Johnson City graduate, was shoved out of bounds near where his older brothers and former Hobart players, Nolan and Ryan, were standing. For Ryan, those moments summed up the past 12 years perfectly.
“The people I was standing with was a combination of Nolan’s old teammates, my old teammates, friends from home, Troy’s best friend from back in the JC days,” Ryan said. “I thought about it after the game and I realized that it’s something I’m never going to forget. It kind of brought everything full-circle and that was what we signed up for in the beginning. Some of my best friends come from Hobart, and they are going to be life-long friends. Those people are still supporting my family and it was cool to see pretty much everything come full-circle in that aspect.”
For 11 of the past 12 seasons, there has been a Robinson in uniform for the Statesmen. If you include Ryan’s coaching tenure following his playing days, that makes it 12 out of 12 of a Robinson contributing to the program in some capacity. And they didn’t just contribute, they were at the team’s forefront. Nolan, Ryan and Troy have all served as team captains and have been named to the Liberty League’s All-Academic team three times each. Hobart head coach Mike Cragg knows how fortunate he has been to have coached all three.
“It’s just been exciting to have three such great young men,” Cragg said. “All very good academically, all great off the field leaders and great football players. All three captains for our team and all three were first-team all-league. They’re tremendous people and tremendous players. We’ve been fortunate to be able to have that family.”
But with Troy in his senior season, the era of Robinson in Hobart football is about to conclude. And while Nolan, Ryan and Troy will all no longer be with the team after this season concludes, a piece of Hobart will always be a part of them. Each of them credits Hobart for shaping them into the men they are today.
The Robinson lineage at Hobart began in 2003 when Nolan arrived for his freshman season. He was a highly-touted linebacker coming out of Johnson City, as he was being recruited by multiple Division I schools, mainly from the Patriot League and Ivy League. He was down to his final two choices, Colgate or Princeton, before both options fell through and he landed at Hobart.
“Being the first one there, I didn’t exactly know what to expect,” said Nolan, who now works at Vestal Dental Associates. “Honestly, it was a school that wasn’t really on my radar, initially being recruited by a number of Division I schools for football. It just so happened that it turned out where it was all said and done, they were the best fit for me athletically and academically.”
Cragg said he recruited Nolan “pretty hard,” and with good reason. Nolan ended up as the Liberty League’s Rookie of the Year after starting every game at outside linebacker as a freshman. He went on to start every game throughout his four-year tenure and was a key player during his time.
During Nolan’s senior season was when Ryan showed up. Unlike Nolan, Ryan did not start right off the bat, because some other guy named Robinson was slotted above him on the depth chart. Ryan was also an outside linebacker, and replacing a player of Nolan’s caliber after he left was something that would make any player nervous, let alone his little brother.
“Naturally, I think there was a little bit of pressure,” Ryan said. “However, I think that was more internally than externally.”
Ryan, who now works at SmartWatt Energy, credits Cragg’s ability to treat each player as an individual to his ability to overcome any pressure he felt. Once he took over the starting job in his sophomore year, Ryan said the pressure had gone away.
But during the year Nolan and Ryan were both on the team, Ryan used Nolan as a resource to learn from, both on and off the field.
“Athletically, he was somebody to model myself off of,” Ryan said. “He was a three-, going on four-year starter my freshman year. Following in his footsteps every day, not only as my brother but as a captain of the team and an all-conference linebacker was pretty advantageous because I’ve always been known to mimic him pretty well, and it worked out.”
Nolan did not play an active role in bringing Ryan to Hobart, as he said he wanted Ryan to make his own decision. Once it became clear where Ryan was headed, Nolan wanted to do what he could to help Ryan succeed.
“I was the bigger brother, but I treated him as another teammate, just so he could make his way and make a name for himself,” Nolan said. “And by the time he was done, he certainly did that.”
Helping Ryan carve his own path was his style of play. Although he and Nolan played the same position, the two had different approaches to the job.
“Ryan was more of an intuitive athlete, more reactive,” Nolan said. “He’s more of a feisty, scrappy player and he made it work. Whereas I was more on the extreme of very fundamentally sound, but still had the physical attributes to back that up as well. Not to say he wasn’t very fundamentally sound, but he was very intuitive.”
“[Ryan], of all three really had a great knack of knowing when to be able cheat off of his position and when to help other people,” Ryan said. “He was great in the backfield as far as blitzing and stuff.”
After his playing days were up following the 2009 season, Ryan wasn’t ready to step away from football. Cragg offered Ryan a part-time coaching position, and he jumped at the opportunity. In 2010, he joined Cragg’s staff, filing in as the outside linebackers coach and helping the younger players.
In 2011, Troy came to the team for his freshman season, although he came in as a wide receiver. That same year, Ryan was offered the opportunity to coach the wide receivers, so just like his brother before him, Troy spent his first year being mentored by his older sibling.
“That was really special,” Troy said. “Being coached by your brother at the college level in particular is a special thing. It doesn’t happen for very many people. It’s something I’m very grateful for.”
Ryan called the experience “once-in-a-lifetime” and wasn’t sure if Troy would cherish it as much as he did, as Ryan said he was often harder on Troy than the other receivers.
But despite being the third Robinson to join the Statesmen, Troy has been able to carve out his own path with the team. He is a much different athlete from his two brothers, which is why he plays a different position. Troy had over 1,000 career points for the Johnson City basketball team during his time there, so the receiver spot lines up more with his skillset. Nolan and Ryan agree, as they each said Troy is the most athletic of the trio.
“He belongs on the offensive side, to where he can really utilize that speed and quickness,” Ryan said.
Despite having two successful brothers come before him, Troy said he never felt any pressure, but quite the opposite, in fact.
“They kind of paved the way for me,” Troy said. “They showed me how it was done and what it takes to be successful, so I just followed in their footsteps. They actually made it easier for me from high school to college.”
The Statesmen are 41-4 over the past four seasons, including undefeated regular season marks each of the past three years. Cragg said Troy has played a huge role in their success.
“He has absolutely everything to do with it, both on and off the field,” Cragg said. “On the field, he made some great catches in the last couple of weeks on the final drives to be able to win and continue to move on in the playoffs. So he’s big-time for us. He’s a smart kid, loves Hobart football and gives everything to it.”
Troy was more relieved than anything with his play against Johns Hopkins, as he had been waiting for a big game all year after enduring a shoulder injury early in the season.
“I’ve been waiting to have a game like I had last game,” Troy said. “I finally had a pretty big game for us, so I was just trying to stay positive all year.”
If Troy can keep producing the way he did Saturday, the Statesmen will have a much easier time in their quarterfinal matchup against Wesley today.
Looking forward, Troy is preparing to attend dental school next year, and has his sights on eventually working with Nolan when he is finished with his education.
But what about Mom and Dad? Three boys, all team captains and successful academically. They have to be doing something right. What’s their secret?
“I don’t want to sound cliché when I say everything we’ve needed they’ve been there for us with college, but it’s really the truth,” Ryan said. “We’re a product of our parents. We’re lucky enough to have two amazing people who will do anything for us, and college being one of them.”
But with all the hard work, all the time and effort put into preparation and the success on the field, one all-encompassing question remains:
Who’s the best?
Nolan gave the most diplomatic answer, providing arguments for all three, but Ryan and Troy each claimed themselves to be superior.
“That’s the brotherly competitiveness right there,” Ryan said.