Iowa running back Adam Robinson has no trouble blending in.
"He has a very quiet demeanor, doesn't say much," Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You hardly even know he's around or in the building."
In meetings, Robinson rarely talks and lets more garrulous teammates like fellow running back Jewel Hampton fill the air. During practices, Robinson puts himself in listen-only mode, absorbing feedback from the coaches on how he can improve.
But there's one place where Robinson can't hide: the playing field. When you're the nation's ninth-leading rusher, it's hard not to get noticed.
After being thrust into a starting role prematurely last season, Robinson has already found his comfort zone this fall, racking up 265 yards and four touchdowns on only 38 carries through Iowa's first two games.
"Last year, it was kind of a shocker," Robinson said. "It was like, 'Am I really playing football for the Iowa Hawkeyes?' Now it's like, ‘I'm here, I'm settled in and I'm really happy with the way things are going.'"
So are the rest of the Hawkeyes, who visit No. 24 Arizona on Saturday night (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET) in the premier game of Week 3.
After redshirting in 2008, the 5-foot-9, 205-pound Robinson had moderate expectations for 2009: contribute on special teams and "maybe get some work in at running back," he said. Hampton was the acknowledged successor to Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene after setting a team freshman record with seven rushing touchdowns in 2008.
But knee problems in July and August ended Hampton's season before it started. By Week 2, Robinson had climbed to the top of the depth chart.
"I didn’t really expect to play early that season," he said.
Robinson started 10 games for Iowa and set a team freshman rushing record with 834 yards. Although Iowa ranked 10th in the league in rushing (114.2 ypg), Robinson got stronger as the season progressed, finishing third in the Big Ten in rushing average for conference games (74 ypg).
He hit his stride on the road against Michigan State, racking up 109 yards on 27 carries. But late in the fourth quarter, Robinson went down with an injury.
The diagnosis: high-ankle sprain.
"All my trainers said, 'This is a pretty severe injury. It’s going to take a while to heal. You'll probably miss the rest of the season, so we'll try to get you back in time for the bowl game,'" Robinson recalled.
Robinson listened to their words, like he always does. But his actions once again spoke louder.
He was running on the ankle a week later. And just three weeks after the injury, Robinson returned to the field at Ohio State as Iowa played for a Rose Bowl berth.
For those unfamiliar with high-ankle sprains and running backs, Robinson's quick return is practically unheard of.
"It really hurt a lot," said Robinson, who had 74 rushing yards on 20 carries against the Buckeyes. "I was only about 80 percent going into Ohio State, but I just tried to tough it out and do what I could on the field. Toughness is a value I have. I embrace it, and if I can go, then I'm going to go despite injuries or things like that."
Hampton is back in the mix for Iowa, and after a strong preseason, he has been pegged by many to take over the starting job. But Robinson is making it difficult right now.
"You hope from Year 1, whenever they do get to the field, to Year 2, they improve, and that’s basically been the case," Ferentz said. "[Robinson] really finishes runs. He's a guy that you have to tackle. He runs with great determination, and we're hopeful he can go on and have a great year."
Make no mistake: Iowa doesn't have a running back controversy. Robinson called it "a relief" to have Hampton available last week against Iowa State after he carried the ball 24 times in the opener (Hampton was suspended).
Robinson carried 14 times against the Cyclones for 156 yards and a touchdown, while Hampton had 20 rushes for 84 yards and a score.
"Both of us are capable of starting and both of us are capable of playing, so whoever starts, whoever comes in next, it doesn’t really matter," Robinson said. "We're both going to contribute and provide a spark for the team."
Right now, No. 32 is doing just that.