XFL 2020: BattleHawks' Kenny Robinson, first in league with college eligibility remaining, on uncharted path
The XFL came along at the right time for Robinson, who's part of St. Louis' top-ranked defense
Formal introductions haven't been made. One of the most significant players of Vince McMahon's resuscitated XFL hasn't yet met the master showman who employs him.
"But I know who he is," St. Louis BattleHawks safety Kenny Robinson said. "I used to watch wrestling."
The XFL is one world Robinson lives in – the latest iteration of professional spring football. Robinson's other world is unwittingly enhancing that iteration.
As the first XFL player with college eligibility remaining, Robinson is somewhat of a curiosity. The NFL collective bargaining agreement mandates that players be three years from their high school graduating class in order to be drafted.
The XFL has no such restriction. The league came along at the right time for Robinson, who didn't exactly have a choice to jump to the pros before he became draft eligible in 2019.
"I realized it probably a week after I was expelled from college for academic dishonesty," Robinson told CBS Sports. "It actually took me a little while to figure out what I was going to do."
Robinson was an All-Big 12 safety in 2018 at Dana Holgorsen's West Virginia. At the time, no active Mountaineer had more interceptions (seven). His football future was bright, but being booted from school left him without a college football lifeline in that third season of eligibility.
"I miss college ball," Robinson said. "I miss it a lot."
Robinson entered the transfer portal last June, but an NCAA transfer seemingly was out of the question. West Virginia wouldn't release his transcripts. Robinson would like to take online classes, but even that is impossible without those transcripts.
Robinson says the school is charging him $3,000 to get the records.
"We have no clue [why]," he said. "We're just going to pay it and get it over with."
Money is important for another reason. Robinson's mother is battling cancer back in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Robinson is warming to the idea of being a pioneer of sorts. From the beginning, XFL commissioner Oliver Luck has said his league would take college players before they were NFL Draft eligible.
The league would not actively seek out those players. But it would take them in certain situations. In other words, it couldn't/wouldn't lure the likes of Clemson's Trevor Lawrence. For one, the XFL couldn't pay enough to get the college game's best stars who wouldn't risk their health for the XFL pay scale.
That eliminates the XFL from raiding the NFL as the USFL did in the 1980s. The average XFL salary is $55,000.
But the league can be a safety net for those who are suspended or just don't want to go to college.
"A lot of guys are hitting me up asking me general questions about the XFL, how to get into it," Robinson said. "Just figuring out what the process would be for some of them that just don't like school."
A West Virginia source described Robinson this way: "He was always polite and all that. He just didn't want to do everything else associated with what it takes to be a college student. The XFL gave him an opportunity to play football because I'm not sure he's ready for the NFL."
The XFL has promised it will get him ready for the NFL. Luck told CBS Sports the league will help arrange any interviews with NFL scouts and coaches. Robinson declared for the NFL Draft last month as the equivalent of a draft-eligible junior.
Last week, the Underwear Olympics were going on in Indianapolis, while this entire season has been Robinson's combine.
"Yessir, pretty much," said the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder. "I feel like I'm way more ahead than those guys [at the combine]. I'm playing professional football. I'm a pro. They're still amateurs, technically."
In four games, the first-place BattleHawks (3-1) have stood out on defense. Robinson is fourth on the team in tackles (18) with an interception, and St. Louis has allowed the fewest points in the league (15.5 per game).
Does all of it make him a pioneer of sorts?
"I'm starting to embrace a little bit," Robinson said. "Everyone wants to talk about it. Yeah, I guess I could be called a pioneer."
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