Andrew Robinson remembers his debut for the Michigan football team. You probably don’t.
In the penultimate game of the 2015 regular season at Penn State, starting long snapper Scott Sypniewski was sidelined with an injury. So it was Robinson, then a redshirt freshman, who quietly filled in and executed — his first of just five career appearances.
The fifth-year senior walk-on knows recognition is hard to come by as a backup, let alone as a long snapper, perhaps the most anonymous position in football.
Being seen was never his concern. Praise and frustration are heaped upon guys like Rashan Gary and Shea Patterson. Their potential lies in making the NFL — the NCAA being a given. But Robinson, like so many on the Wolverines’ roster, has an unnoticeable career.
“I remember seeing a tweet and someone said ‘Oh, Sypniewski’s been banged up, they might get Andrew Robinson a chance,’ ” he recalled. “And someone tweeted ‘Who is Andrew Robinson? I’ve never heard of him.’ And I was like, ‘Exactly.’
“You don’t want to be known.”
Andrew admits that long snapping wasn’t his, nor frankly anyone’s, first choice. But it was his ticket to accomplishing what seemed unimaginable — playing college football. Choosing which school to play for was a far-flung, second objective.
At Athens High School in Troy, Mich., Andrew played football and lacrosse. His younger brother by two years, Bradley, played the same positions, and his father, Brad, was an assistant coach for the football team.
“Bradley and Andrew always worked their tail off in the weight room for me, dedicated to the program,” said Josh Heppner, the brothers’ high school coach. “They worked hard, played offensive line, did some things on defensive line for us, but they found their niche with long snapping.”
Starting in youth leagues, Andrew played as an offensive lineman. But his short stature — currently at 6-feet and 218 pounds — was an early indicator that he wouldn’t fit the prototypical lineman build. None of Michigan’s scholarship linemen weigh under 300 pounds.
He also started long snapping in eighth grade. His coach didn’t like his form, but Andrew was the only one who could snap the ball at least 13 yards. So he assumed the role, and it stuck when Heppner needed a long snapper.
During his sophomore year of high school, rotating between offensive lineman and long snapper, collegiate aspirations weren’t gaining traction. Thus began the reckoning of an uncertain future.
“I wanted to play college football, so I knew I needed a niche,” Andrew said. “My dad had done a bunch of research and saw a (long snapper) had gotten a scholarship offer from Notre Dame, Nebraska. So he’s like, ‘Okay, let me figure out more about this.’ And then next thing you know, I got a Twitter (direct message) from Chris Rubio and he just said ‘Hey, my name is Chris Rubio, check out Rubio Long Snapping.’ So I checked it out and was like ‘Let’s go to a camp.’ ”
Added Brad: “We came back from the Chicago trip and he sat down with his mom and myself and said ‘I want to do this. I want to do more camps, get better at it.’ And that’s what we did.”
The Rubio Long Snapping camp began 14 years ago, starting with six participants and growing to as many as 300 at the most recent camp. Six years since their first meeting, Rubio — a former long snapper at UCLA — still has lasting impressions of Andrew.
“Honestly, one of my top snappers,” Rubio said. “He wasn’t silent, I’m a big fan of that because I don’t like when long snappers are tense. When they’re tense they never do well. … If he never hears his name, he’s done a great job.”
And being heard was difficult, anyway. Rubio compiled film and offered a communication channel for his long snappers to find open roster spots at the collegiate level. Andrew sent his own edited tapes to schools, even making a trick shot video in 2013 — a YouTube clip that still rouses laughter amongst his teammates.
He doesn’t mind them poking fun. How else was a long snapper supposed to make himself known when doing so is the very antithesis of the position?
Andrew traveled to Grand Valley State and Ferris State. Lehigh called. Then Butler and Central Michigan. Michigan State inquired, followed by radio silence. The attention he finally earned was humdrum.
Then, Brady Hoke and Michigan — which hadn’t recruited a player from Troy Athens since 2002 — chimed in.
“One day, I got a text message from Allen Trieu from Scout.com and he said, ‘Hey, I don’t want to jinx it, but Michigan just called me about you. They’re coming to visit you tomorrow.’ ” Andrew remembered. “And I was like, ‘You know this is Andrew Robinson, right?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I know.’ I was starstruck. I was like, ‘Really? I got on Michigan’s radar?’
“I remember running down into the basement where my dad was. I told him, ‘Hey, I just got told Michigan is gonna come visit me tomorrow.’ He was like ‘Yeah, right. You’re kidding.’ … I got called out of class and people are like, ‘A-Rob’s meeting with Michigan?’ It was a big joke, like ‘Oh, it’s snapper Rob.’ No one thought that I’d end up where I was.”
Neither did his father. He never envisioned Andrew making it to the next level. Both Andrew and Bradley making it as long snappers was unthinkable.
But when Andrew got his walk-on offer from Michigan shortly after, it also represented a foot in the door for Bradley.
Between the two brothers, Bradley is the taller, leaner one. It’s why Andrew only calls him his “baby brother” instead of “little brother.” It’s also why, with Andrew’s experience to guide him, Bradley’s D-I offers were proactive and not reactive — Illinois, Louisville, Auburn, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State all reached out.
The attention gives Brad and Andrew a laugh — Bradley didn’t even want to long snap. He wanted to be a quarterback. His stature said otherwise.
“He really fell in love with it when he first met Chris Rubio,” Brad said. “Andrew’s participating (at a camp) and Bradley’s going, ‘I could do this.’ … On his way home from camp he says ‘I want to do this too. I want to start going to camps.’ ”
From there, the “consistency” of the Robinson brothers, as Heppner puts it, elevated Bradley into a greater spotlight. After wading through offers and one year as a Spartan, Bradley, encouraged by his brother, found a home at Ohio State where he’s now a junior.
For two brothers at rival schools — with a father who is a Michigan State grad, nonetheless — their bond is less competitive than imagined.
“They both compete with each other, but they’re also super close and they mentor each other,” Brad said. “A lot of things Andrew has gone through, Bradley has been able to grow and see how it is.”
There are exceptions, of course, like how Andrew and Bradley have the same haircut — what Andrew calls the “Conor McGregor fade.” They have a bet: whichever team loses the Michigan-Ohio State game this year, the losing brother shaves their head and stays bald the rest of the year.
As Andrew reflects during his fifth and final year, he talks with veteran confidence.
When he was hanging out with the Wolverine specialists at Northwestern this past weekend, his teammates discussed Devin Gardner like an ancient relic of Michigan football history. He was Andrew’s freshman year teammate.
Former classmates of his who have transferred or graduated like Drake Harris, Moe Ways, Ian Bunting and Wilton Speight make his final year quieter. Dymonte Thomas, who used to pray in the north end zone of Michigan Stadium with Andrew before games, is now in his second season with the Denver Broncos.
Now, Andrew’s pregame praying ritual is back to a familiar spot off the field. He kneels facing north, alone, by the left hash that he has snapped from for five years. Now Bradley prays with his classmate, running back Master Teague, before games.
Off the field and out of mind, it’s hard to imagine Andrew’s journey as a whirlwind, but that’s exactly how it is. Does he wish he played more? Of course. But he doesn’t think about it. Starting long snapper Camaron Cheeseman is one of his good friends. Andrew actually likes being one of the first guys to congratulate the special teams unit after a play. Being a Michigan football player — the rah-rah and tradition that trumped any other D-I or D-II offer he got — is forever inscribed in his identity.
“I’ll never forget when I met (former kicker) Kenny Allen’s mom the first time, and she told me at our first game, that when you see your kid running out of that field to touch that banner, you will cry, you will tear up,” Brad said. “Ever since that happened, I do. I get a little tightness in the chest because of that tradition, and I love it and it’s the greatest feeling.”
And when Andrew has gotten that rare chance to go into a game, the tear ducts well up. But if you’re not paying attention, he’s happier. Since the 2015 Penn State game, Andrew has only seen game action in 2016 against Hawaii and Rutgers and in 2017 against Wisconsin and Ohio State.
“I want to get thrown in the game and I almost don’t want Coach (Jim) Harbaugh to know I was in the game until he watches film, because I want to be the best I could be,” Andrew said. “It’s one of those things that you don’t wanna be known until someone puts on the tape and sees 49 was in.”
Added Rubio: “A good long snapper is like a Honda Accord. It’s not the flashiest car in the world, but it’ll get you from point A to point B. … On fourth down, (a coach) wants to yell at his linebacker to get him the ball back or at his quarterback for throwing an interception or whatever.
“Long snapping is one of those things he doesn’t want to think about.”
The age-old adages of reflection surface when talking to Robinson. There are no regrets going to Michigan and getting his degree in movement science. As of this fall, he’s applied to physical therapy schools and is even weighing participating in Michigan’s pro day.
A long snapper who has played in five games making it to the NFL seems like a pipe dream, but it doesn’t faze Andrew. He references Detroit Lions’ long snapper Don Muhlbach, who played only one season in college and is now a 15-year vet. To prepare, Andrew works with former NFL special teams coach Greg Zauner on his snapping.
With a degree in his back pocket, he says it’s better than never trying.
On Nov. 23, Brad and his wife Susanna will drive down to Columbus, Ohio in their pickup truck in anticipation for what is to come the next day. Their sons probably won’t see the field, but who knows that over a month away? Either way, they’ll be proud.
It’ll be their first and only game they attend together this college football season, just as planned. Normally, they “divide and conquer.” Just this past weekend, Brad traveled to Evanston to see Andrew and Michigan, while Susanna ventured to Happy Valley to see Bradley and Ohio State. In Columbus, it’ll be the last time the two brothers will share a field.
Like any other fan would do, the couple will set up to tailgate with friends and family and let loose before another iteration of one of the sport’s greatest rivalries.
Neither of them really care who wins, if they’re being honest. And they may not be congratulated for their kids’ on-field performance. They’ll just be thinking about how they’ll celebrate with their sons after the game.
It won’t be their last post-game celebration together, though. It’ll be their first.
“We’ve made it a goal that when they’re done with their college careers and have families,” Brad said, “on Thanksgiving weekends we’ll either be at Ohio State or (Michigan) and that’ll be our tradition.”
So when they park at Ohio Stadium and prepare to tailgate and watch the game, the routine is the same. The faces of passersby will tense up seeing the back of their truck — side-by-side Michigan and Ohio State football stickers.
Brad has heard the question often: “What’s up with that?”
“It’s a unique situation,” he explains.