Outland Trophy history: Offensive tackle Alex Leatherwood, Alabama, 2020 recipient

This is the 15th and last in a series on Outland Trophy winners from 2006 to 2020. From 1946 to 2005, Outland Trophy winners were profiled in a book by Gene Duffey, Sixty Years of the Outland Trophy. We have now caught up with the last 15 winners.

(Leatherwood was selected 17th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft by the Las Vegas Raiders. He is playing his rookie season in the NFL this fall.)     

By Gene Duffey, Author

In the 2009 movie, The Blind Side, based on Mississippi left tackle Michael Oher, his position is featured, praised and even glorified, as long as you don’t have to play it. It’s the left tackle who must protect the blind side of a right-handed quarterback in the pocket.

Logically, Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood, who helped the Crimson Tide win the 2020 national championship, played left tackle and won the 75th Outland Trophy.

Coaches knew the importance of the position long before fans did. The movie opened with a replay of Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann being crushed from behind by a blitzing linebacker — from The Blind Side.

You better have a good left tackle if you want your quarterback to be able to walk by the fourth quarter.   

Every offensive line needs an anchor, and that anchor is usually the left tackle,” Alabama’s offensive line coach Kyle Flood (at the time) told the audience at Omaha’s Outland Trophy dinner in a video.

“That guy is the security blanket for the offensive line coach, and the entire offensive line. What you don’t see about (Leatherwood) is his consistent preparation, all the reps he takes in practice and the great example he sets for all the young guys on the team.”

Leatherwood offered a simple explanation for his work ethic in practice. “I was trying to be the best player I can be,” he said.

Flood ran the offensive line at Alabama during Leatherwood’s junior and senior seasons, then followed Steve Sarkisian to Texas in January 2021 to become offensive coordinator for the Longhorns.

Alabama’s offense did more than score points. The Tide steamrolled their opponents in 2020. They averaged 48.5 points a game, second best in the country.  


Outland Trophy history: Offensive tackle Penei Sewell, Oregon, 2019 recipient

This is the 14th in a series on Outland Trophy winners from 2006 to 2020. From 1946 to 2005, Outland Trophy winners were profiled in a book by Gene Duffey, Sixty Years of the Outland Trophy. We are catching up with the last 15 winners.

(Offensive tackle Penei Sewell was the first Outland Trophy winner from Oregon and also the initial recipient from American Samoa, a U.S. Territory. He was selected seventh overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2021 NFL Draft and is playing his first year of professional football this fall.)  

By Gene Duffey, Author

American Samoa is a small group of islands in the South Pacific,

4,800 miles southwest of Los Angeles. The population is 55,000, scattered around 75 square miles.

It’s also the birthplace of Penei Sewell, the steamroller offensive tackle who won the Outland Trophy at Oregon in 2019.

There are more links with American Samoa and American college football than you would think.

Jack Thompson, an excellent quarterback at Washington State in the 1970s was nicknamed the “Throwin’ Samoan.” Thompson, also born in American Samoa, set the NCAA record for career passing yards in 1978 before college football turned into a pass-first, run-last game.

Two of Sewell’s uncles played in the NFL. Richard Brown, a linebacker at San Diego State, spent 10 years in the NFL with the Rams, Chargers, Browns and Vikings. Isaac Sopoaga, a defensive tackle at Hawaii, lasted 12 years in the NFL, mostly with the 49ers.

Penei’s father, Gabe, was an assistant high school coach in American Samoa. 

Between Sewell’s size and lineage, he was destined to become a football player — a really good football player.

When Penei was about 5, he remembers former USC safety Troy Polamalu and several of his Pittsburgh Steeler teammates coming to American Samoa to put on a summer camp. A typical kid, Penei, too young to participate, spent most of the time running around, watching the older kids go through the drills at the camp. He became hooked on football.

 “I think that left a lasting impression on Penei and all my sons,” Gabe Sewell told the Salt Lake City Deseret News years later.

Gabriel, the oldest of Gabe’s four sons, walked on at Nevada and played defensive back and linebacker. His senior year, in 2019, he finished fourth on the team in tackles.

Nephi, the second son, played defensive back at Utah. He appeared in three games as a freshman in 2019. Noah, two years younger than Penei, followed him to Oregon and played linebacker.


Nominations sought for 2021 Armed Forces Merit Award

Fort Worth, Texas — Nominations are now being accepted for the 2021 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America.

Coordinated by the staff at the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA was created in June 2012 “to honor an individual and/or a group with a military background and/or involvement that have an impact within the realm of college football.”

Nominations for the 2021 Armed Forces Merit Award will be accepted through October 1, when a selection committee of seven FWAA members and two representatives from the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl will review the list of candidates for the 10th annual presentation.

“We are pleased to join with the Football Writers Association of America to honor an individual with a military background or group that works with our armed services that has an impact within college football,” said Brant Ringler, the executive director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.

FWAA executive director Steve Richardson echoed Ringler’s sentiments along with adding that “we have an outstanding list of candidates each year and it is difficult to honor only one recipient when there are several individuals and programs that are very deserving of the honor.”

With 41 nominations (38 individuals and three programs) considered for the 2020 award, Bluefield College defensive lineman Collin O’Donnell was selected as the ninth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award. Serving in the U.S Army from 2013-2016, O’Donnell compiled 68 total tackles in his three seasons at Bluefield with four sacks and 10 tackles for losses.

During his military service, O’Donnell was injured in Afghanistan, After two years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital and seven operations to save his foot, he fully rehabilitated and went back home to Buffalo, N.Y., where he began training with the sole intention of playing college football.

After arriving at Bluefield College in the summer of 2018, O’Donnell demonstrated leadership in the Ram football program and performed service to the community. He received numerous awards, highlighted by winning a small business grant that allowed him to open his Coffee and Bake shop called “The Grind” in May 2020.

Nate Boyer of the University of Texas was the initial recipient in 2012. Other recipients were Brandon McCoy of the University of North Texas in 2013, Daniel Rodriguez from Clemson University in 2014, Bret Robertson of Westminster College (Fulton, Mo.) in 2015, Steven Rhodes from Middle Tennessee State University in 2016, Dr. Chris Howard from Robert Morris University in 2018 and Army West Point coach and military service veteran Mike Viti in 2019.

Kansas State and its football team were honored in November 2017 as the sixth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award for the university’s partnership with the United States Army that created a bond between the school’s athletic department and the Iron Rangers at Fort Riley.

2021 nominations for the 2021 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA should be submitted to Tim Simmons (bfishinc@aol.com, 303/678-8484), the award’s coordinator, by October 1. The nomination link can be found at https://www.armedforcesbowl.com/armed-forces#meritaward-section.

Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA – 2021 Nominations


  • Athletes Of Valor, Alex Stone, Founder & CEO, Athletes of Valor (U. S. Marines)
  • Battlefields To Ballfields, Mike Pereira, CEO/President/Director
  • National Association of College Directors of Athletics, Wounded Warrior Project

Active Players

  • Cornelius Andrews, Union College, WR, 5-7, 148, Jun., Stockbridge, Ga.
  • Rashaud Freeman, Webber International, LB, 6-0, 225, Jun, Jacksonville, Fla. (U. S. Army)
  • Kyran Griffin-Isom, Troy University, WR, 6-3, 172, Soph., New Orleans, La. (U. S. Marines)
  • Rasheed Holloway, Union College, WR, 6-0, 198, Jun., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
  • Damian Jackson, Nebraska, DL, 6-2, 275, Jun. Las Vegas, Nev. (U. S. Navy)
  • Kenwon Mack, Union College, CB, 5-9, 165, Soph., Detroit, Mich.

Football Coaching Staff

  • Troy Calhoun, Head Coach, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Jake Campbell, Assistant Backfield, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Robert Green, Defense Assistant & Director of Racial Equality, United States Naval Academy (U. S. Marine Corps)
  • Brian Knorr, Inside Linebackers, U. S. Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Steed Lobotzke, Offensive Line, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Alex Means, Outside Linebackers, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Ben Miller, Running Backs/Special Teams Coordinator, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Andre Morris, Spurs, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • John Rudzinski, Defensive Coordinator, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Brett Skene, Offensive Assistant, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Trent Steelman, Quarterbacks, Eastern Kentucky University (U. S. Army)
  • Mike Thiessen, Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Charlton Warren, Defensive Backs, Georgia (U. S. Air Force)
  • Mick Yokitis, Wide Receivers, United States Naval Academy (U. S. Navy)

Football Support Staff

  • CPT Donald Bowers, Director of Player Development, United States Naval Academy (U. S. Marines)
  • Clayton Kendrick-Holmes, Chief of Staff/Football Operations, United States Military Academy (U. S. Navy)
  • LTC John Nawoichyk, Assistant AD/Military Operations, United States Military Academy (U. S. Army)
  • Omar Nelson, Director of Player Development, United States Naval Academy (U. S. Navy)
  • CPT Blake Powers, Admission Support, United States Military Academy (U. S. Army)
  • Steve Senn, Director of Recruiting, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force)
  • Jordan Simmons, Director of Football Strength & Conditioning/Assistant Head Football Coach, Nevada (U. S. Army)
  • Rusty Whitt, Football Strength & Conditioning Coach, Troy University (U. S. Army)

University Leadership

  • Dr. Jack Hawkins, Jr., Chancellor of Troy University (U. S. Marine Corps)
  • Jim Knowlton, Director of Athletics, University of California (U. S. Army)

Novel brings the Galloping Ghost to the spirit of college football

FWAA member Dean Hawthorne recently published a novel about college football and a afterlife encounter with The Galloping Ghost.

WHERE PASSION LIVES: The Spirit of College Football is college football’s answer to Field of Dreams and The Natural.

Diehard college football fan Kyle McGinnis is eagerly awaiting the kickoff of a new season when something goes horribly wrong. His accidental death lands his spirit in purgatory, where he meets the true Spirit of College Football—none other than football legend Red Grange.

The Galloping Ghost leads Kyle on an extraordinary adventure deep inside the world of college football. Crisscrossing the country with a spirit’s all-access pass, they explore some of the game’s greatest moments, traditions, and rivalries in a journey that mortal fans can only dream of.

But it isn’t all just fun and games. As Kyle struggles to unravel the mystery of gaining his passage to heaven, the Ghost reveals a long-forgotten place where the two can join forces in a quest that will have an everlasting impact on the fate of college football.

By turns joyous and poignant, this unforgettable story from debut author Dean C. Hawthorne is filled with college football history, a look at both the fun and the trouble spots in today’s game, and enough tantalizing “what ifs” to keep college football fans engrossed and entertained for some time to come. 

About the Author

Dean C. Hawthorne is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation.

Despite being a descendant of one of America’s great authors, Dean didn’t intend to pursue a career in writing. However, deep down he always held out hope that he had inherited at least a shred of his famous ancestor Nathaniel’s immense talent.

As much as he enjoys writing, it pales in comparison to his love of sports. If you name the game, the odds are pretty good he’s either played, coached or at least watched it over the course of his lifetime. Topping his list of favorites is college football. His passion for that sport began more than fifty-five years ago, when he began following the powerhouse program of his future alma mater, the University of Southern California.

For more information about Dean and this book go to www.deanchawthorne.com.

Outland Trophy history: Defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, Alabama, 2018 recipient

This is the 13th in a series of stories on Outland Trophy winners from 2006 to 2020.  From 1946 to 2005, the first 60 Outland Trophy winners were profiled in the book 60 Years of the Outland Trophy by Gene Duffey. In celebration of the Outland Trophy’s 75th Anniversary we are catching up with the last 15 recipients.

(Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams was selected No. 3 overall by the New York Jets in the 2019 NFL Draft. He played 13 games as a rookie, making 28 tackles, registering 2.5 sacks and collecting a sack. Last season with the Jets, Williams made 55 total tackles (32 unassisted). He had 7.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.)   

By Gene Duffey, Author

It is a short hop down Interstate 59 from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa, Alabama–just 57 miles southwest to the exit at McFarland Boulevard. Although almost neighbors, that distance meant worlds apart to a young Quinnen Williams.

The promising defensive lineman from Birmingham’s Wenonah High School took official visits to Auburn and Mississippi. He committed to Auburn.

Then, Alabama’s Nick Saban called with a scholarship. The King of college football was offering the keys to the castle. Talk about an offer too good to refuse.

Williams, who would go on to claim the Outland Trophy at Alabama in 2018, was a quiet kid, unusual for a position where ferocity is considered a key ingredient.

 “He was in the shell a little bit (when he arrived), but he was a good football player,” said Karl Dunbar, Alabama’s defensive line coach at the time.

Quinnen wasn’t shy by nature. There was a reason for that shell. His mother, Marquischa, a first-grade teacher, died of breast cancer Aug. 10, 2010 when he was only 12. She was just 37.

Losing a mother at any age is difficult. When one is 12, it makes it even tougher.

Marquischa Williams was an Auburn fan. Quinnen’s older brother, Quincy, played linebacker at FCS Murray State and was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 “Quinnen took it the hardest,” Quincy told Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated about Marquishca’s passing. “He was a momma’s boy, the one with the big heart. The only person he talks to about it is me. When we do talk, I let him know every single time how proud she is looking down at us.”


Members: Nominate your son or daughter for the Volney Meece Scholarship

The FWAA is now accepting applications for the 25th annual Volney Meece Scholarship.

For an application please email Dave Sittler at davesitt@aol.com.

Applications must be received by Dec. 15, 2021.

The scholarship is awarded annually by the FWAA and named for the late Volney Meece, who served 22 years as the FWAA’s Executive Director and was the organization’s President in 1971.

The $1,000 annual grant for four years is awarded to a deserving son or daughter of an FWAA member. High school seniors and current college students are eligible. Since the program started in 1997, the FWAA has distributed more than $90,000 in scholarship money to deserving children of FWAA members.

The winner will be announced in January.

Past winners of the Volney Meece Scholarship

1997 Brett Goering Topeka, Kan.
1998 Kelly Brooks Denver, Colo.
1999 James Butz Schaumberg, Ill.
2000 Sara Barnhart Atlanta, Ga.
2001 Patrick Davis Coventry, Conn.
2002 Jacqueline O’Toole Gaithersburg, Md.
2003 Garrett Holtz Denver, Colo.
2004 Katie Hersom Oklahoma City, Okla.
2005 Katie Wieberg Lawson, Mo.
2006 Kaylynn Monroe Winter Park, Fla.
2007 Nate Kerkhoff Overland Park, Kan.
2008 Jack Caywood Lawrence, Kan.
2009 Haley Dodd Overland Park, Kan.
2010 Donald Hunt Philadelphia, Pa.
2011 Alaina Martens Papillion, Neb.
2012 Emily Alford Tupelo, Miss.
2013 Sarah Helsley Edmond, Okla.
2014Robert AbramsonPalos Verde, Calif.
2015Danielle HooverTulsa, Okla.
2016Dolen HelwagenPataskala, Ohio
2017Elizabeth SchroederNorman, Okla.
2018Mallory RosettaBaton Rouge, La.
2019Alexandra HaleyHamilton, N.J.
2020Sarah ShatelOmaha, Neb.

2021 Preseason FWAA-NFF Poll August 18, 2021

4.Ohio State6731N/A
6.Texas A&M527 N/A
7.Iowa State469 N/A
8.Notre Dame401 N/A
9.North Carolina361 N/A
10.Cincinnati333 N/A
11.Oregon276 N/A
12.Florida255 N/A
13.Wisconsin186 N/A
14.LSU182 N/A
15.USC148 N/A
16.Miami (FL)96 N/A

Washington (45), Indiana (43), Penn State (30), Iowa (20), Utah (17), Texas (16), Ole Miss (8), TCU (8), Northwestern (7), Liberty (7), Arizona State (7), Florida State (5), BYU (5), Coastal Carolina (4), Oklahoma State (3), Louisiana (3), Auburn (2), Boston College (1).

Defending national champion Alabama dominated the preseason poll with 35 of 52 first-place votes. Clemson was second in the poll voting, 66 points behind Alabama, with other perennial powerhouses Oklahoma and Ohio State following in that order.

Georgia, the only team to receive first-place votes other than the top four, was No. 5, followed by Texas A&M, Iowa State, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Cincinnati as the top 10 vote-getters. The Bearcats were the only non-Power Five team in the poll.

If the opening poll is reflective of what will happen at the conclusion of the 2021 season, then college football will see more of the same from recent seasons. Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State have accounted for 11 of the 14 spots in the seven CFP National Championships. And Oklahoma has made three semifinal game appearances during that stretch.

In the 2021 preseason poll, the SEC led all conferences with five teams and was followed by the ACC with three teams. The Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 had two teams each, the American one and Independents one.  

No games involving Top 16 Teams 

GAMES WEEK 1 (Sept. 2-5):
No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Miami [FL] – Sept. 4 (Atlanta)
No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 5 Georgia  – Sept. 4 (Charlotte)
No. 3 Oklahoma at Tulane – Sept. 4
No. 4 Ohio State at Minnesota – Sept. 2
Kent State at No. 6 Texas A&M – Sept. 4
Northern Iowa at No.7 Iowa State – Sept. 4
No. 8 Notre Dame at Florida State – Sept. 5
No. 9 North Carolina at Virginia Tech – Sept. 3
Miami [OH] at No. 10 Cincinnati – Sept. 4
Fresno State at No. 11 Oregon – Sept. 4
Florida Atlantic at No. 12 Florida – Sept. 4
Penn State at No. 13 Wisconsin – Sept. 4
No. 14 LSU at UCLA  – Sept. 4
San Jose State at No. 15 USC – Sept. 4

The FWAA-NFF Super 16-Poll was established at the conclusion of the 2013-season by long-time partners, the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the National Football Foundation (NFF). Voters rank the top 16-teams in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, and the results will be released every Sunday of the 2021-season; the individual votes of all members will also be made public here. The first regular season poll will be released on Tuesday, Sept. 7-(to account for Labor Day games), and the final poll will be released Sunday, Dec. 5. The pollsters consist of FWAA writers and College Football Hall of Famers who were selected to create a balanced-geographical perspective. The poll utilizes a computer program designed by Sports Systems to compile the rankings. The JBoy Show is the official Media Partner of the poll.

The Football Writers Association of America, a non-profit organization founded in 1941, consists of more than 1,400 men and women who cover college football. The membership includes journalists, broadcasters and publicists, as well as key executives in all the areas that involve the game. The FWAA works to govern areas that include gameday operations, major awards and its annual All-America team. For more information visit http://www.footballwriters.com.

Founded in 1947-with early leadership from General Douglas MacArthur, legendary Army coach Earl “Red” Blaik and immortal journalist Grantland Rice, The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame is a non-profit educational organization that runs programs designed to use the power of amateur football in developing scholarship, citizenship and athletic achievement in young people. Learn more at http://www.footballfoundation.org and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @NFFNetwork.

Outland Trophy history: Ed Oliver, defensive tackle, Houston, 2017 recipient

This is the 12th in a series on Outland Trophy winners from 2006 to 2020. From 1946 to 2005, Outland Trophy winners were profiled in a book by Gene Duffey, Sixty Years of the Outland Trophy. We are catching up with the last 15 winners.

(Defensive tackle Ed Oliver was selected in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft, ninth overall by the Buffalo Bills. He begins his third season with the Bills this fall. In his first two seasons Oliver has played in 32 games and started 23 of those. He has 76 total tackles in his first two seasons, 29 of those assisted and eight sacks. Oliver has forced two fumbles and deflected five passes.)   

 By Gene Duffey, Author

The University of Houston’s Ed Oliver grew up wanting to be first. So far, so good. He wasn’t the first born in his family, having to settle for being the third of four boys, but he couldn’t help that.

He wanted to be the first one remembered among the string of outstanding defensive linemen to come out of Westfield High School in Houston. Check. He wanted to be the first five-star recruit to play at the University of Houston. Check. He wanted to become the first sophomore to win the Outland Trophy. Check.

“I was the first to do a lot of things,” he said. “I was the first recruit this high to come to Houston. I take pride in being the first sophomore to win the Outland. That’s an amazing accomplishment. I could have done it as a freshman. See, I’m kind of hard on myself.”

Ed Oliver’s value system is different from most. Good is never good enough. The best can still be better.

“I do things differently,” he said. “I have a different mindset. Sometimes I get down on myself. I just want to work out and get better. The more people tell me I’m good, the more I come down on myself. Nobody could be harder on myself than me.

“Even though I might sugar coat it in front of people, it’s always in the back of my head what I did wrong. I could have done better on this play. When I watch film, I (look for) what I could have done better, not how good I am.”

Oliver began receiving extra attention from opposing offensive lines when he started on the varsity as a sophomore in high school. Double teams became a way of life.

He continued to prove himself worthy of the extra attention right away as a freshman in college. Oliver started the opening game of the 2016 season against No. 3 Oklahoma, made seven tackles, including two sacks, and helped the Cougars pull off a 33-23 upset of the Sooners.


Outland Trophy history: Offensive tackle Cam Robinson, Alabama, 2016 recipient

This is the 11th in a series on Outland Trophy winners from 2006 to2020. From 1946 to 2005, Outland Trophy winners were profiled in a book by Gene Duffey, Sixty Years of the Outland Trophy. We are catching up with the last 15 winners.

(Offensive tackle Cam Robinson was selected in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, 34th overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars. The fourth of six Alabama linemen (all since 1999) to win the Outland Trophy, Robinson has started and played in 47 games for the Jaguars since 2017.)  

By Gene Duffey, Author

Pencil spotlight in on the football player. No, not Deshaun Watson, the star of Clemson’s 35-31 victory over Alabama to win the national championship in January 2017. Check out the other player nearby, the hulking guy in white, wearing No. 74.

ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi is interviewing Watson, the Tigers quarterback and star of the evening, who won the game with a touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with just two seconds to play.

Suddenly, from off camera, a huge Alabama player appears. Look at the guy. It’s Cam Robinson, the Crimson Tide’s oversized left tackle. Robinson shakes hands with Watson and whispers in his ear.

“I know him fairly well,” Robinson says the next day. “We were in the same recruiting class. I just wanted to congratulate him.”

It was a class move in a tough moment for Robinson. His Alabama team had just lost a chance to win back-to-back national championships by the narrowest of margins. The pain of the defeat will stay with Robinson.

“I have a hard time getting over the losses,” he says. “I think it’s going to linger for a while.”

Robinson didn’t lose very often in his three years at Alabama. He started all 44 games of his college career and lost only four times, twice to Mississippi and twice in the national playoffs. In addition to the Clemson defeat, the other occurred to eventual champion Ohio State in the semifinals as a true freshman.

He followed a long and winding road from West Monroe, Louisiana to claiming the 2016 Outland Trophy.

His first experience with organized football began in a YMCA league at age 7. Next, he moved on to touch football and eventually tackle.

Robinson started out on the defensive side of the ball, playing linebacker and defensive end. “It was fun,” he said.

Alabama’s Cam Robinson, winner of the 2016 Outland Trophy, addresses the audience at the Outland Trophy Presentation Banquet on Jan. 11, 2017, in Omaha. Photo by C41 Photography.

He didn’t switch to offense until his freshman year at Ouachita High School in Monroe, Louisiana where he began as a left tackle. “The offensive line coach and head coach asked me to move (to offense),” said Robinson. “It was something I was willing to do.”

Robinson began high school at Ouachita, where he played for two years. He transferred to West Monroe High School for his junior year. “I always wanted to go to West Monroe,” he said.

His older sister, Charity, played basketball at Ouachita and their mother, Priscilla, did not want her children to attend different high schools. When Charity went off to McNeese State, Cam transferred to West Monroe.

Cam played a little basketball himself in high school. He played his freshman year at Ouachita and his junior year at West Monroe before giving up the sport. “I wanted to be freer to focus on what I wanted to do,” said Robinson. Translation: Concentrate on football.

Robinson was a familiar name to the coaches at West Monroe before he arrived.

“We knew him since he was a little kid,” said Jerry Arledge, an assistant coach at West Monroe during Robinson’s time there and later the head coach. “His uncles went to school here and his grandparents live about two blocks from our stadium.”

Some people were upset at the school that Robinson left behind. “There were ill feelings from the Ouachita people,” said Arledge, adding that he heard charges of tampering. That means high school football is a very big deal in the area.

Robinson already weighed 325 pounds when he arrived at West Monroe. “He was the biggest kid I’ve ever seen,” said Arledge. “The thing so impressive about Cam is he’s got the greatest feet of any big kid I’ve seen.”

Arledge had inherited some football talent from his father, Steve Foley, who played at Northeast Louisiana. Foley went on to play linebacker for seven seasons in the NFL, five with the Cincinnati Bengals and one each with the Houston Texans and San Diego Chargers.

Cam’s junior year West Monroe reached the state semifinals. The Rebels built a 48-20 lead, then lost 49-48. “I didn’t play defense (in that game),” said Robinson. But the loss still hurt.

West Monroe went 9-3 Robinson’s senior season, losing 14-0 in the second round of the state playoffs to Central High School, near Baton Rouge.

Robinson did play some defensive end in high school when he “was needed.”

In his senior year the website 24/7 Sports rated Robinson the No. 2 prospect in Louisiana behind running back Leonard Fournette, who went on to LSU and became the No. 4 pick by Jacksonville in the 2017 NFL draft.

“You had to fire him up very little,” Arledge of Robinson. “No doubt in our mind (he would be this good). When you’re that size, you’re going to be the No. 1 pick in America.”

Michigan, Auburn and Arkansas joined the hunt for the big guy.  Robinson finally narrowed his college choices to Alabama, LSU and Texas. “When I was young I was a huge LSU fan, even in high school,” he said. “When the recruiting process started it’s a different aspect.”

The winning tradition in Tuscaloosa sold him on the Crimson Tide. Alabama won the national championship in 2012, beating Notre Dame for the title, and won its first 11 games in 2013 before losing to Auburn on the infamous missed field goal return. Oklahoma then beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Robinson committed to Alabama just before the start of his senior year at West Monroe. Naturally, there was some resentment when he announced he would be leaving the state for Alabama, instead of enrolling at LSU.

“The Tigers don’t miss many (in Louisiana),” said Arledge. “(Robinson signing with Alabama) was one of the things that got the LSU offensive line coach fired.”

 Robinson was able to graduate from high school in December and enrolled at Alabama for the spring semester.

“It was tough physically and mentally,” Robinson said of his early transition to college football. But he was glad he made the move to college one semester ahead of schedule, benefiting tremendously from spring practice.

“It helped me a lot,” he said. “I got a good grip on the playbook. Football wise, the talent level was much different.”

The left tackle position had been left open when Cyrus Kouandjio, the starter in 2013, left for the NFL. The Buffalo Bills drafted him in the second round in 2014, No. 44 overall.

Robinson handled the new challenge well enough to earn the starting left tackle spot in the spring as a true freshman.

“I was not surprised,” he said. “It was one of my goals. I came in and worked extremely hard.”

Alabama opened the 2014 season, with Robinson in the starting lineup, against West Virginia in the Georgia Dome in front of over 70,000.

“It was completely different from high school,” he said. “I think I played pretty well. I don’t think I gave up any sacks.”

Neither did Alabama. The Tide attack rolled to 538 yards of total offense and beat West Virginia, 33-23.

The Tide went 11-1 that season, losing only to Mississippi by six points in Oxford, then beat Missouri in the SEC Championship Game back in Atlanta. Ohio State stopped the Tide express in the national semifinals en route to the national championship.

Robinson and Alabama reached the summit in college football in 2015, winning the national championship with a pulsating 45-40 win over Clemson in the title game at Glendale, Arizona. “It’s the highest achievement,” said Robinson. “It was an exciting moment, overwhelming really.”

Robinson hit a bump in the road the following May. He was back home on a break before summer school started. He and Hootie Jones, a reserve safety and special teams player at Alabama who was also from Monroe, were arrested late at night in a local park for illegal possession of stolen firearms and possession of a controlled substance in Ouachita Parish.

Police officers smelled marijuana when they approached Robinson’s car. Robinson was seated in the driver’s seat.

Police spotted a handgun on Jones’ lap, who was sitting in the passenger seat. A bag of marijuana was found on the floor. A stolen handgun was also located under Robinson’s seat.

Jones and Robinson were released early the next morning on bonds. 

Prosecutors decided not to pursue the case a month later for lack of evidence.

“I used it as a learning experience,” said Robinson.

After initially suspending both players indefinitely, Alabama coach Nick Saban allowed both back on the field for the start of the season. They both completed community service.

Louisiana district attorney Jerry D. Jones expressed sympathy for the Alabama athletes. “I want to emphasize once again that the main reason I’m doing this is that I refuse to ruin the lives of two young men who have spent their adolescence and teenage years, working and sweating, while we were all in the air conditioning,” Jones told Ben Kercheval of CBS Sports.

In addition to his early success in games, Robinson continued to improve on the practice field. Attempting to block Jonathan Allen, the nation’s premier defensive tackle in 2016, made him better.

“Going against guys of that caliber has to help you,” said Robinson.

He identified the defensive ends who gave him the most trouble as Missouri’s Shane Ray, who went on to play linebacker for the Denver Broncos,  and Mississippi State’s Preston Smith, who played linebacker for  the Washington Football Team and now Green Bay.

When Ed Orgeron replaced Les Miles at coach at LSU in late September 2016, he was asked about the Tigers’ offensive line. “The one that’s the left tackle at Alabama should be here,” Orgeron said, remembering  Robinson’s roots. “So, we need to get better.”

In his three years at Tuscaloosa, Robinson gained an appreciation for Saban.

“I don’t think he’s as bad as people think he is,” said Robinson. “He’s more laid back than people think.”

Robinson suffered a sprained knee one Saturday in practice his sophomore year and injured a shoulder in the fourth quarter of a win over Chattanooga in November of his junior year. But he never missed a start.

Robinson said he never thought about winning the Outland Trophy, even though he had helped the Tide average over 40 points and 477 yards of total offense per game in 2016, his junior year. Alabama’s offensive line gave up barely one sack a game.

Near the end of November Robinson was named a finalist, along with two other offensive linemen, Ohio State center Pat Elflein and Washington State guard Cody O’Connell.

In December 2016, the announcement was made at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta when Robinson became the Crimson Tide’s fourth Outland Trophy recipient. After the 2020 season, Alabama has six Outland Trophy winners, five of them offensive linemen — all since 1999.

“It was an exciting moment, overwhelming really,”‘ Robinson said. “I got up and gave my little talk. I wasn’t nervous.”

Applause, applause


Outland Trophy history: Offensive guard Joshua Garnett, Stanford, 2015 recipient

This is the 10th in a series of stories on Outland Trophy winners from 2006 to 2020.  From 1946 to 2005, the first 60 Outland Trophy winners were profiled in the book 60 Years of the Outland Trophy by Gene Duffey. In celebration of the Outland Trophy’s 75th Anniversary we are catching up with the last 15 recipients.

(Guard Joshua Garnett was selected 28th overall in the 2016 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Garnett played in 15 games and started 11 as a rookie for the 49ers. A series of injuries starting in 2017 would basically curtail his stay with the 49ers, and he was released before the start of the 2019 regular season. Garnett retired in October 2020.)   

By Gene Duffey, Author

Some people think of Stanford, known for its fine academics and lineage of great quarterbacks, as the high and mighty of college football. But its linemen have proved they can get down and dirty when need be.

The Stanford offensive linemen nicknamed themselves the “Tunnel Union Workers” around 2008. The idea came from offensive tackle Chris Marinelli of Braintree, Massachusetts. Marinelli’s father worked construction on the Big Dig in Boston, a huge project that rerouted Interstate 93 under the city and connected Logan Airport to downtown. It took 15 years to complete and cost $14.6 billion.

“A lot of people didn’t understand it,” guard Joshua Garnett said of the nickname. “You have to bring your hardhat and earn your stripes. We took a lot of pride in that.”

“It’s a cool tradition,” added left tackle Kyle Murphy, who played next to Garnett.

Their names may not be as well-known as former Stanford quarterbacks Frankie Albert, John Brodie, Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett, someone named John Elway and Andrew Luck. But Stanford’s  offensive linemen in the last decade or so have included several All-Americans … enter Chase Beeler in 2010, tackle Jonathan Martin in 2011, guard David DeCastro in 2011, guard-tackle David Yankey in 2013 and tackle Andrus Peat in 2014.

DeCastro was an Outland finalist in 2011, and Yankey was a semifinalist in 2013.

Garnett fit right in. He became Stanford’s first Outland Trophy winner in 2015. The senior from Puyallup, Wash. helped Stanford to a 12-2 record, including a Rose Bowl rout of Iowa.

Garnett’s father, Scott, played nose guard at Washington in the early 1980s.