Football Defensive Player of the Year: Gelen Robinson
By John O’Malley Post-Tribune correspondent December 7, 2013 8:30PM
On The Web
Mike Hutton wraps up the 2013 season and looks ahead to 2014. Read his column at post-trib.com/sports.
Updated: January 9, 2014 10:04AM
ST. JOHN — It’s become nearly as common as paying taxes.
And while it might be a little bit taxing for region football fans to continue to see and hear, Lake Central’s Gelen Robinson has earned The Post-Tribune’s Defensive Player of the Year honor for the third straight season.
The amazing thing about Robinson — a three-sport standout performer who has a real penchant for making huge plays — is his relentless work ethic.
The Purdue University-bound linchpin of the Indians’ stingy defense hits like a runaway locomotive, runs like a deer and blows up opposing offenses with uncanny regularity.
But the face of coach Brett St. Germain’s program came dangerously close to not wearing an LC uniform four years ago.
“If you go back to the very beginning, when I first came here, Gelen and his mom told me it was 50-50 whether he’d end up at Lake Central or not,’’ St. Germain said. “Gelen was thinking about going to (Illinois power) Mount Carmel instead.’’
When St. Germain met with Robinson, he told him he’d heard a lot about him coming out of Grimmer Middle School. He told Gelen he could make a difference coming to LC, be the face of change and help turn the program around.
And if any program needed to be turned around, it was LC’s.
The Indians only won a combined five games during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
The Caravan, meanwhile, had won multiple state titles (now 12) and is a program virtually beyond comparison led by Frank Lenti, a coaching legend, who captured his 11th state championship in 30 years last week.
The day Robinson went to Mount Carmel to visit, former Caravan star Donovan McNabb — who went on to star at Syracuse University and in the NFL — talked to a group of 15 potential incoming student-athletes.
“Being able to see someone like Donovan who had gone to school there and went on to be that successful after leaving there, definitely attracted me a lot to the school and their program,’’ Robinson said. “I’d say it had a big influence on me. It made me want to follow in his footsteps and be just as successful as he was.’’
When he left Mount Carmel that day, Robinson said the odds were tilted 70 to 30 in the Caravan’s favor.
Robinson later went to a mid-summer workout at LC with a lot of his former teammates from Grimmer and the Tri-Town Raiders. He said he thought about how much fun he had playing with them and the success they enjoyed together.
Robinson also liked St. Germain’s pitch about making a difference and being the face of change.
“My main thing about going to LC was knowing I could help change the program there, and that a lot of the guys I played with, could help me change the program there. That was really a very motivating thing for me.’’
The rest is history.
Robinson was the ultimate playmaker for a miserly LC defense that allowed only 177.8 yards and 8.8 points per game.
“We’ve put Gelen at a number of spots on defense — defensive end, nose guard, outside linebacker, middle linebacker — and it doesn’t matter,’’ St. Germain said. “No matter where we put him, he would do great things. He’s probably best coming off the edge. Just that downhill attack mode is where he’s best — read the snap of the ball and go.’’
Despite facing constant double teams, Robinson’s statistics are eye-popping.
With 100 tackles, 11 sacks, 31 tackles for loss and 26 hurries, it’s easy to see why this star is destined for stardom at the next level.
Robinson — who also came up with three fumble recoveries, broke up four passes and blocked a punt — is all about team defense.
“We got along and saw ourselves as an elite unit,’’ he said. “We played well together and were committed to being an elite unit. I think that’s what all defenses should strive for, because it’s not just one person who makes a play, or makes a defense by. It takes all 11 guys.
“If C.J. (Lessentine) is rushing the quarterback and making him scramble, it helps me get in position to make a play. Teams focused on me a lot, but when they focused their attention on me, they weren’t focusing on guys like Jesse (Ruiz) or K.J. Singleton, so a lot of my teammates were making plays.’’
Two stand out — winning the school’s first sectional title since 1999 while ending a 16-game losing streak to Merrillville.
“It was great to be a senior on this team and get as far as we did,’’ Robinson said. “It meant a lot to me and the rest of the seniors for us to get further in the postseason than we had in a long time. Knowing we left a mark for the next couple of teams to reach that level and try and achieve, is very rewarding.
“Hopefully, those classes can go even further than we did.’’