“I just had a feeling like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to be the next one. There’s no way,’ ” Robertson said.
Before he received the tryout last December that led to a reserve/futures contract a week later, Robertson was dealing with the ripple effects of a severe back injury that nearly ended his career before it started. While training for the NFL draft process in 2016, Robertson, 24, was carted out of the gym because of a herniated disc during a dead lift workout with resistance bands. His spine was caved in for so long that it pinched nerves, shutting off Robertson’s entire left leg.
“During my pro day, I didn’t have a left leg,” Robertson said. “It was basically just there, like a doughnut on a [spare] tire. It was just barely hanging on. I was down, man. I never had a major injury like that, and I didn’t know how to react to it either.”
Robertson finished sixth in the country in sacks as a junior at Texas Tech, just a year before this freak accident. Williams suggested that he should declare for the draft, but Robertson stayed for his senior season to make his mother happy. He was the first person in his immediate family to attend college, and eventually the first to graduate, and she wanted him to be prepared for life after football. That started sooner than Robertson hoped after he went undrafted because of the injury.
“It’s a back, you’ve only got one of those,” Williams said. “There’s nothing that can really overcompensate for a back. You hurt your foot, you’ve got strong calves, strong legs, you can kind of muscle through that. But a back? It’s debilitating, man. It’s one of the worst things to hurt.”
Following a successful rookie minicamp with the Seattle Seahawks that led to a contract, Robertson was among the first wave of cuts during training camp last summer. He spent the season working the graveyard shift at UPS, the first job of his life. He was paid about $400 a week to work from midnight to 9 a.m. to help provide for his daughter while still training during the day.
“It was just taking a toll on me, man,” Robertson said. “I knew, at the end of the day, this wasn’t my calling.”
During the final week of the season, the Redskins gave him the ring he was waiting for. Robertson has since spent the entire offseason training with Williams in Houston at O Athletik, a gym co-owned by Williams, putting in nearly eight-hour shifts before players report for training camp on Wednesday in Richmond.
Robertson will have his cousin in his corner while seeking a spot on the 53-man roster. More than anything, Robertson’s just thankful to be around football again.
“When you get that feeling, and you see that feeling come through, it’s like the best feeling in the world,” Robertson said. “I knew right there after this workout that if they signed me, I’mma put my all into everything. I’mma give it my all. It’s why I’m working out with Trent every single day, doing extra [workouts] every single day. I wanna be in the NFL just because I wanna be great, at the end of the day. I want people to remember my name after I leave their team or perform for them.”