Mizzou's Shawn Robinson finds his groove after switch to defensive back

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune
Missouri defensive back Shawn Robinson (12) gestures during a game against Mississippi State last season in Starkville, Miss. Robinson made an interception in the loss.

Missouri football's 2020 showdown against Tennessee was almost exactly one year ago Saturday.

It was the second game of Eli Drinkwitz's tenure atop the Tigers. It turned out to be the most recent game he started a quarterback without the name Connor Bazelak. 

Many games and decisions impacting the trajectory of the program have taken place in the 364 days since the Tigers and Volunteers last clashed on the gridiron, and plenty more are still to come.

But that day last October in Knoxville also marked the last time Shawn Robinson played quarterback for the Tigers.

More:How to watch, listen, and livestream Mizzou vs. Tennessee

Of the four quarterbacks who competed for the Tigers' starting job ahead of the 2020 season, two still play the position in Columbia: Bazelak and his backup, Brady Cook. 

Taylor Powell transferred to Troy and now starts for the Trojans.

Robinson's journey forced him into a bind — leave Columbia and the bonds he had formed to chase another starting quarterback job, or become a safety, a position he hadn't played since middle school.

Coming to Missouri from TCU, Robinson didn't want to pack up his belongings and start over at a third university. Plus, being a Tiger resonated with him. And leaving MU behind was an action he couldn't fathom. 

Robinson re-emerged at the end of the 2020 season at safety, announcing his intentions to continue as a Tiger with an interception against Mississippi State.

Fast forward to last Saturday, Robinson's second interception as a Missouri defender came against Boston College, continuing his process to help his team ground opponents' pass attacks instead of trying to carve apart defensive backs. 

"I've been blown away that what he's been able to do and how quickly he's been able to do it," Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz said of Robinson switching to safety. "He's playing a lot of football for us, playing a lot of different positions, doing a lot of different things and still making a lot of plays with effort, technique and toughness."

Kentucky’s Wan’Dale Robinson catches a long pass against Missouri’s Shawn Robinson on Sept 11.

Drinkwitz said Robinson has brought his quarterback mindset into a defensive setting. That starts with extra work and being around team facilities as much as possible. There's also intense film study and the desire to ask coaches questions to know more about the Tigers' schemes.

"It's been kind of tough, but it's been fun at the same time," Robinson said of the position change. "The physical aspect, it's been a little tough to adjust. It's a whole lot of running. And mentally, I kind of have to look at different keys as I did on offense. On offense, I look at everything. But defensively, you're looking at like one or two or three things a play. So just trying to figure out how to do that.

"But it's been fun overall, it's been a real fun process."

Robinson hadn't played anything but quarterback since eighth grade before the switch last year, about an eight-year gap of playing defense. 

"I think it's awesome, just his willingness to do that, it amazes me," Bazelak said of Robinson. "I could never do that, how much work he's put in to make that transition and be a starter. He's not only made the transition, but he's a starter and making big-time plays for us. So it's unbelievable and super happy for him."

The transition that comes with sustained success is rare this late into a football career. The last time Bazelak played a different position other than quarterback was in ninth grade.

"I'm one hell of a long snapper," Bazelak said. "I was long snapper for eighth grade and freshman year. And then I think up until about seventh grade, I played defensive end, scored a lot of touchdowns, picking off the pitches, really good stuff. So that was back in my glory days."

A trip back in time made Bazelak appreciate Robinson's shift even more, especially with how highly recruited the former quarterback was as one of the top players coming out of Texas as part of the Class of 2017. 

"It's unbelievable," Bazelak said. "Playing quarterback his whole life and then switching to safety in the SEC? It's unreal."

Robinson does have one of his former high school teammates with him in Columbia in offensive lineman Hyrin White. Both were part of the DeSoto squad that won the school's first state championship in 2016. 

That Eagles team went 15-0 in Texas' highest prep classification, ending with a state championship victory at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys. 

"When he came in, it was like I'm his O-lineman and he's my quarterback. We had to build that bond of having each other's back," White said. "On the field, off the field, I was showing him around and stuff like that. And I feel like he picked it up well. I feel like he's a versatile player and he's a very smart player."

White said he and Robinson joked about him playing safety at DeSoto, but never thought it would come to fruition. White wouldn't have believed Robinson's level of production as a defensive back at this level. 

As Missouri heads into the rest of its league schedule, having Robinson as a contributor will help in the Tigers' defense finding synergy. 

"I haven't had this much fun since high school," Robinson said. "I'm just having a blast."

Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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