Robinson finds place with Bulldogs

Josh Robinson strutted into Death Valley with a purpose last week.

Mississippi State's redshirt junior running back wanted to prove he belonged. The Louisiana native, who didn't garner much attention from LSU in high school, stood under the bright lights of Tiger Stadium wearing the wrong colors but possessing the right attitude.

A life that has hurled unique challenges his way presented him with an opportunity to be remembered in the very stadium he'd dreamed of playing in since he was a child.

Robinson, who barely stands all of his 5 feet, 9 inches -- but is every bit of his compact 210 pounds - was ferocious, jutting past defenders when he wasn't bowling them over or tenaciously pumping through their grasps.

"I was just living out my dream," Robinson said. "I've been dreaming about that moment since I was 10.

"I had to make a statement. [LSU] passed up a blessing. You gotta make them pay for it."

Payback was a career-high 197 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in Mississippi State's historic 34-29 win over LSU, the school's first win over the Tigers since 1999.

Standing in one of Louisiana's sports meccas, Robinson was brought to tears. It was a statement for not just for his team but a kid not given much of a chance years earlier.

"Playing LSU was very important to Josh because LSU didn't want Josh," said Lisa Tanner, Robinson's former principal at Franklinton (La.) High. "He proved to LSU and Les Miles that he could do what he needed to do."

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Robinson was raised largely by his grandmother, Gwendolyn "Sand Hill" Robinson Brown, in Bogalusa, La., until her untimely passing when he was 11.

An old-school soul who taught Robinson to respect women, preached the value of the words "sir" and "ma'am," and introduced Robinson to a devout Christian lifestyle, Brown played a key role in Robinson's upbringing.

From little league football to baseball, Brown was always there, selling hot dogs at games and filling the stands with her deafening cheers.

"She was my biggest fan," Robinson said. "She was the figure I needed to look up to."

But on May 23, 2004, while Robinson and his grandmother were getting ready for church, she died in their kitchen of a heart attack.

"When she died, he had nothing," said Tammy Crain, a family friend and former baseball coach of Robinson.

Shortly after, Robinson and his two younger sisters drifted from house to house. Robinson would stay with family or friends. He also started staying with Crain and her husband, Johnny Jr.

Sometimes he walked three miles to little league practice because he didn't have a ride. Sometimes there was more fear than food, but Robinson persevered.

Years later in high school, Robinson saved enough money from working around town to buy an old Nissan Maxima for around $2,000. For about eight months, it served as both transportation and a place to sleep some nights..

Robinson said he was too proud to tell anyone about his sleeping arrangements. Too stubborn to ask for help, Robinson used an infectious smile and bubbly personality to mask his strife.

"I made the best out of it," Robinson said. "I had to.

"There's no point in being miserable, you have to be happy."

* * *

Relatives and close family friends from Bogalusa and Franklinton reached out to help Robinson.

Even before his grandmother's passing, he had become part of the Crain's extended family. Already friends with their son, Johnny Crain III, Robinson always had a seat at their table - usually with a plate of fried chicken or hamburgers in front of him.

Before Robinson's grandmother passed, she asked Johnny Crain Jr. to take care of her boy and to keep him out of trouble.

"He's like family ... he is family," Johnny Crain Jr. said. "As much as we've been a blessing for him, he's been a blessing for us."

His academics became a priority. After playing varsity football for nearby Pine High School as an eighth grader, Robinson lost a year of high school eligibility. He transferred to Bogalusa High, but was told by the coaching staff that he wasn't good enough to play football there, Robinson said, so he transferred to Franklinton.

Knowing that Robinson couldn't play in a traditional senior year at Franklinton, the Crains and Tanner advised him to graduate early and get to college without losing a year of his football life. They pushed him through a strenuous academic workload that spilled into his summers, but in 2011, Robinson graduated and was able to enroll at Mississippi State on time.

* * *

Somehow, Robinson has found ways to be the center of attention.

Maybe it was because of his natural ability that seamlessly propelled him around the field. A surging bowling ball of mayhem, Robinson pulverized his young counterparts in football growing up, forcing his coaches to limit his carries because he was, well, too good.

"Josh was the type of kid in little league when he played running back, every time he touched the ball he scored," Johnny Crain Jr. said.

He was so fast in little league baseball that he could tag a runner out at first base on a ground ball hit to the left side of the infield faster than he could throw it there. In a story that sounds too incredible to be true, Tammy said she saw Robinson, who was playing catcher, chase down a ball hit past the center fielder, sprint in, and tag the batter between second and third and a runner between third and home.

His football exploits were equally as impressive. Along with current LSU running back Terrence Magee, Robinson helped lead Franklinton to its first-ever state championship appearance in 2009, and then its first state title in 2010 - a game in which he broke his arm and still tried to play in.

He rushed for 2,420 yards and 42 touchdowns during his last two seasons at Franklinton, and never lost to Bogalusa, his school's rival.

"They were missing something," Robinson said with a satisfied smile.

* * *

Getting Robinson to Mississippi State was a communal effort.

The Crains talked to coaches and Tanner, who wasn't afraid to sit in on coaches' meetings, was on a first-name basis with some assistants.

That support has guided Robinson all these years, but his own perseverance has, too. His discipline and resolve aided in his triumph.

"He's a kid with a good heart who hasn't let his circumstances dictate his outcome," said Mississippi State running backs coach Greg Knox, who was Robinson's primary recruiter. "He has no fear."

Robinson uses his pain and triumph as motivators. That's why he wears a T-shirt honoring his grandmother under is uniform every game. It's why he has a huge tattoo of the number 23 inked on his chest, representing the darkness of May 23, but also the light of Nov. 23, 2013 - his first 100-yard rushing game with Mississippi State (101 vs. Arkansas).

He plans to one day wear 23 in the NFL. And it's why Saturday meant so much to the small-town(s) hero, as Robinson continues his journey.

"The sky's the limit," he said, grinning ear to ear. "I'm just trying to be better than I was yesterday."