EAST LANSING - Sophomore Trenton Robinson is well on his way to becoming one of the biggest success stories in Mark Dantonio's second recruiting class.
Unheralded by recruiting analysts when he was a senior in high school at Bay City Central, Robinson became a Plan A prospect after a strong performance at Michigan State's football camp two summers ago.
As a true freshman cornerback, Robinson carved out a niche for himself on special teams before moving to free safety in the spring. During the second week of training camp, Robinson finds himself atop the depth chart at free safety where he has the inside position to replace Otis Wiley.
In a defensive backfield that includes eight players with two or more starts to their credit, Robinson is well aware that where his name falls on the depth chart one day means very little with proven playmakers like Kendell Davis-Clark, Roderick Jenrette, Marcus Hyde, Danny Fortener, all jockeying for a starter's role in the back row.
But Robinson is determined to keep the job. And he has proven during his short time at Michigan State that he has as much moxie as any member of the 2008 Spartan recruiting class.
"All I can do is work hard," Robinson said. "It's developing. There is a lot of work that needs to be done. It's developing and getting better. I feel like I have a lot to learn still. I don't know how the coaches feel but me personally I feel like I have a lot to learn."
Spartan coaches liked what they saw from Robinson this past spring in the Green and White game. Robinson recorded eight tackles and one pass break-up in the spring game.
Defensive backs coach Harlon Barnett believes that Robinson has a bright future at Michigan State.
"He runs around and flies to the ball giving maximum effort on every play," said Barnett of Robinson. "You love guys like that, guys like Trenton, who go out and give you all they have on each and every play. That is what has allowed him to get in the mix."
When asked which of his defensive backs reminds him most of himself, Robinson was the first safety mentioned by Barnett, who was an All-American at Michigan State before a successful career in the NFL.
"A guy like Trent, a guy like Denicos (Allen), a guy like Rod Jenrette, guys that run around and give maximum effort," answered Barnett. "At least I tried to do that anyway. Guys that run around to the ball and hit people; that is what they do."
Coming into college after a successful high school career at Bay City Central, Robinson thought that his future was at cornerback until the coaching staff moved him to free safety as a projected replacement for Wiley.
"I was kind of in shock when I first heard it," Robinson said. "I really didn't care because anyway I can help the team, if they feel I can help the team more at safety then playing corner, that is what I'm going to do."
Robinson saw action in eight games as a true freshman collecting six tackles on special teams. Although he possesses outstanding speed, Robinson's football savvy has served him even more in the move to free safety.
"At safety you have to tell the corners what defense we are going to play," Robinson said. "Are we going to play cover 1 or cover 2. Then you have read a little more back there and recognize the plays, the offensive formations. Because you are seeing everything back there and you have to help the team."
Preparing mentally was a big key in making a positive switch to safety said Robinson.
"Just try and get a defensive book and know what to do," Robinson said, "because if you know what to do you can play fast and you can play hard."
Continuing to gain confidence and developing a deeper understanding of his responsibilities at free safety are at the top of the list for what Robinson is working on from now until the end of training camp.
"Formation recognition and knowing what to do all the time," said Robinson, "that is what I am going to concentrate on. That's from film study, paying attention in meetings and reps."
Robinson has also prepared for his new role with diligence in the weight room. He is considerably stronger than he was as a true freshman and the weight he has added during the offseason is good weight.
"I'm 191 now and I want to get up to 195-200," said Robinson. "I've been trying to put on a little more weight since I moved from corner to safety because I know coming down hill and hitting, there's some big guys out there. I feel I needed a little more weight, so I've put on some more weight in my shoulder area."
Robinson has added the weight without sacrificing his speed.
"I want to keep the speed," Robinson said. "I'd have to say I'm faster then I was when I first got up here."
Robinson's transition to safety has also been hastened by the veteran members of the secondary.
"I'd have to say the five seniors have helped me the most," Robinson said. "All the upperclassmen helped me get ready. Because if you go out on the field and you really don't know what you're doing and you mess up here or there they let you know like you should do this or you need to get that done. Coach (Dantonio) kind of preps us all to be a coach a little bit, to help each other."
As a redshirt freshman, Robinson knows mistakes may come, but he plans to go out and be aggressive and follow in the footsteps of Wiley and the other Spartan free safety's that came before him.
"I'm just going to play ball," Robinson said. "Go hard all the time. We all mess up and to be able to know that everyone messes up and if you mess up don't worry about it and put it in the past."