By Matt Nestor
Prep Sports Reporter
A newcomer took the Big Northern West by storm last year. He was so new, in fact, that it was the first time he could even play, according to IHSA rules.
Rockford Lutheran running back James Robinson burst onto the scene last year as a freshman, helping lead the Crusaders to the Big Northern West championship.
It didn’t take long for Robinson to establish himself as a force to be reckoned with. In fact, the first four times he touched the football, he scored a touchdown.
“Everybody thought I should give him the ball every play,” Lutheran Head Coach Bruce Bazsali said. “I think about it, but it’s not practical. We try to spread it out with the weapons around him, and that makes it easier on him.”
It was part of a season of dominance. He ran for more than 2,000 yards, and he scored 34 rushing touchdowns. Robinson ran back several kicks for touchdowns, as well as threw a touchdown pass, just for good measure.
As the season wore on, the freshman was no longer a surprise. But even as teams tried to gameplan to stop him, there was not much that could be done.
“I think (opposing defenses) tried to stop him, but he is just a load,” Bazsali said.
If Robinson can keep it up, he is well on his way to placing himself in Rockford football history. There are a handful of players who can probably match his season last year. They may have even be able to do it twice in a career.
That Robinson was able to do that as a freshman gives him a leg up on the field. If he just repeats last season three times, never improving on what he did last year, that would probably be enough to put him in the conversation for the best running back this city has seen.
“In my opinion, he might be the best player I’ve seen come out of the league in a long time,” Stillman Valley Head Coach Mike Lalor said. “I’ve never seen that as a freshman. He is going to be a handful to defend for everybody for three years, and he is only going to get better. It is a daunting task on the one hand, but as a football fan, it is going to be a joy to watch him over the next three years.”
Lutheran will have obstacles to overcome this year, dealing with expectations for the first time in a long time, as well as replacing players who helped contribute to a conference championship.
With Robinson in the fold, it automatically places them among the conference favorites. High school football is a team game, and one player does not generally make a difference in wins and losses, unlike what you could see in basketball. But Robinson has the potential to be the rare player who can win games for his team.
There was talk over the summer that maybe Robinson may look for greener pastures at another school. But Bazsali was never concerned about his star player returning.
“I am glad he is back,” he said. “There were a lot of rumors he was leaving, but we never worried about it. We knew they were rumors. I wish we had another one of those.”
From the Aug. 21-27, 2013, issue