The way Brian Robinson Jr. behaved on an average Tuesday practice during his senior year at Hillcrest High School is still etched into the mind of his then-running backs coach Greg Guy. The Hawks were undefeated and just clinched the region, having just won their tenth straight game the week before.
During the Monday film session after that most recent victory -- which for all intents and purposes was a "meaningless game" -- Hillcrest's head coach had kind of called out Robinson for running out of bounds. The next day the running back came to practice with an astounding hunger to improve.
"He was a senior committed to Alabama. We're 10-0," Guy said. "Everything said that he should be satisfied, and he was not. It bothered him so much that somebody was questioning anything about him on the field."
The vignette underscores the qualities about Robinson that lifted him above the rest early on and continue to be factors in his success. Guy, who formed a tight bond with Robinson during the player's time at Hillcrest, has a unique perspective on the running back's approach to adversity and his relentless work ethic.
Robinson's freshman year of high school also happened to be Guy's first year coaching at Hillcrest. Still getting his footing as a coach, Guy hadn't had much experience working with players of Robinson's caliber, the level of player where it's evident that the NFL is an achievable goal to set.
"When you see one [that kind of player], you know," Guy said. "And that was the first one I saw where I was like, 'Yup, that's what they look like.'"
It quickly became apparent that Robinson had the potential to be a special player for the Hawks. Guy and Robinson developed a great player-coach connection, and the running backs coach was honest with the young star about the influence he believed he could have.
"I told him from a very young age, 'You're a leader on this team whether you want to be or not. Does not matter. Your God-given ability makes you a leader, and with that comes responsibility,'" Guy recalled.
Robinson did not take those words lightly. He set an example for others to look to with his discipline and goal setting. He had big dreams, but, Guy noted, he was always really good about the little, day-to-day stuff he could control right in front of him that he knew would eventually lead to those bigger markers.
"He always wants to get better," Guy said. "That is something that, from day one when he was a ninth grader to the day, he walked out these doors, he always wanted to get better -- regardless of the recruiting, the stars, who was talking to him."
Check out the top photos from Brian Robinson Jr.'s 2023 season so far. (Photos by Emilee Fails and Kourtney Carroll/Washington Commanders)
All that hard work really paid off in Robinson's senior year, when he exploded on the scene. He rushed for 990 yards on 161 attempts with 18 rushing touchdowns as a senior while adding 24 receptions for 302 yards and two scores. He was named a unanimous four-star recruit and received offers from multiple SEC schools before choosing Alabama.
During his time with the Crimson Tide, Robinson showed the traits that Guy had always been so impressed and inspired by during his high school years. At Alabama, the running back was forced to be patient and wait his turn as he sat behind a bevy of talented players on the depth chart. There were many moments during that period where he could have been deterred from his NFL pursuit.
"He handled it the best he could possibly handle it. He stuck to his beliefs. He stuck to who he was," Guy said. "When the times get hard, when things are not easy, when things are not going your way, most guys are gonna start doubting themselves, 'maybe I'm not good enough, maybe I'm not the best, maybe I'm not that,' but he just says, 'I'm gonna find a way to figure it out.'"
Figuring it out meant seizing his opportunities when they were presented, which Robinson did emphatically, particularly when he was the starting back during his senior year. He finished his time in Tuscaloosa tied for 10th in program history for career rushing touchdowns with 29 and totaled 2,704 rushing yards for his career to finish 11th all-time in Alabama records. His performances led to his NFL dream coming true during the 2022 NFL Draft, a moment that still gives Guy pause to think about.
"Obviously to hear his name called on that stage, I don't know how you top that as a coach, when it comes to somebody you care about and you know the fight, you know the hard they've been through to get to that point," the coach said.
When he learned that Robinson had been shot just weeks before what should have been his NFL debut, Guy went through many of the same thoughts and emotions all of Robinson's loved ones had. After being relieved he was alive, he was scared and sad for what this might mean for Robinson's career. But as the weeks went on, he saw Robinson do what he has done time and again since he was a 14-year-old. Those same traits and strengths shone through in his recovery.
"I mean, a guy got shot. Then a couple months later, he's playing and rushing for 100 yards in an NFL game," Guy said. "I mean, that's just stupid. But again, that's who he is. He's gonna find a way one way or the other even when it may not look like he's going to or it's not looking good, he's going to find a way."