By LARRY VAUGHT
Just in case Western Hills star Wandale Robinson didn’t know how big a recruiting priority he was for Kentucky, he found out Friday night.
That’s when Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops came to watch him play and got to see plenty, including a 96-yard punt return for a touchdown in Western Hills’ win over rival Frankfort.
The 5-9, 175-pound Robinson is ranked as one of the nation’s top five all-purpose backs and ranks among the top 350 players overall. He’s narrowed his college choices to Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Purdue, Nebraska and Kentucky.
He ran 177 times for 2,330 yards and 33 touchdowns last season and also had 25 catches for 343 yards and six scores. This year he has amassed 1,209 yards of total offense with 14 touchdowns. He’s rushed 70 times for 813 yards — 11.6 yards per carry — and eight touchdowns with a long run of 87 yards. He has five catches for 217 yards — 43.4 per reception — and four touchdowns with a 75-yard score. He’s returned three punts for 161 yards — 53.6 yards per touch — and two scores, including a 96-yard touchdown. On defense, he has 19 solo tackles, 14 assists, four tackles for loss and one interception.
In last week’s 41-23 win over Frankfort, he ran 21 times for 242 yards and two scores, returned a punt 96 yards for a touchdown, caught a 21-yard scoring pass, made six tackles, had one tackle for loss and break up two passes.
“His recruitment has been pretty busy,” said Western Hills coach Don Miller. “Coaches have been just coming in one after another. He had about 25 (scholarship) offers but he narrowed it down. He’s been to Nebraska (for an official visit) and is going to Alabama for an official (on Sept. 22).”
Robinson, who was at Kroger Field Saturday with his father to watch UK beat Murray State, has explosive speed that allows him to make big plays. But Miller said it is more than just straight-ahead speed that makes him special.
“The biggest thing is his lateral speed and the way he can just cut on a dime,” Miller said. “He has great vision. He is very versatile running laterally and his straight ahead speed is amazing. He has such a great football IQ that we can move him around. He’s even played some fullback. We can put him in different positions and that makes it harder for the defense to focus all the attention on him.”
Robinson has not let the recruiting attention overwhelm him. During the summer he went to Ohio State to meet with the coaches, drove to Florida State and came back through Alabama where Miller said he “held his own” with others also on the Alabama campus.
“Recruiting has not changed him. The best thing about him is when a coach comes in Wandale always has a smile on his face,” Miller said. “It doesn’t matter who the coach is, he has that same smile and personality. He has listened to every coach the same way and shown every coach the same respect.”
Kentucky started selling Robinson on what playing for Kentucky could mean to him for years. At first it was offensive line coach John Schlarman selling the message. Then Stoops and recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow became UK’s lead recruiters with him.
“They are telling him not to look at just four years at Kentucky but to look at the opportunities he would have after playing at Kentucky,” Miller said.
Several top-in state players have gone to out of state schools in recent years. Several of the state’s top-ranked high school football players have already verbally committed to out of state schools this year.
“I don’t think it is because Kentucky is doing anything wrong,” Miller said. “I think as a whole, the Kentucky football program has really stepped up.”
He noted that in Western Hills’ district that UK has offered Lexington Catholic junior quarterback Beau Allen and Boyle County junior cornerback/running back Landen Bartleson along with Robinson.
Robinson could make his college choice in October but he’s already working to make sure he can graduate in December so he can enroll in college in January.
“I love the kid and wish him the best. There’s not going to be a wrong choice for him and somebody is going to get a great player and great kid,” Miller said.