Something Guelph native Tavius Robinson did as a bit of a lark turned out to be one of the best things he could’ve done.
“When our (university football) season got cancelled, I felt that it was definitely going to hurt my development not having football for a year,” Robinson said during a telephone interview.
“I had made a highlight tape about three months before our season got cancelled just for a joke, but then when our season got cancelled it came into use and I sent it out to (NCAA) coaches. As more and more coaches found out about me, it kind of just kept spiraling.”
During the first week of June the national U Sports and provincial OUA university sports associations cancelled their sports programs until the end of 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, meaning that there won’t be any Ontario university football for the first time since 1945.
The highlight reel of the 6-foot-8, 250-pound defensive lineman was seen by many NCAA coaches and he was soon getting calls.
“The amount of coaches that were contacting me was definitely surprising,” he said.
In the end, he decided on the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss Rebels) where it’s thought he could see playing time this year due to the amount of defensive line players they’ve lost to graduation.
“I had a bunch of calls with their coordinator and the D-line coach and stuff and I just felt that would be a good fit for me,” Robinson said. “The way they run their defence and everything, I thought I'd fit in nicely.”
In fact, the plan for the Rebels defensive line under new head coach Lane Kiffin, a former head coach of the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans, is similar to the one used last season by the Gryphons.
“It's pretty much pass rushing, getting up the field and being able to drop back into coverage as well,” Robinson said. “That's similar to the type of stuff we did here.”
The 2020 campaign would’ve been Robinson’s third with the Gryphons. He was a member of the OUA all-rookie team in 2018 and a second-team all-star last year. In his two seasons with his hometown team, Robinson had 36 tackles, 10 sacks, 14 tackles for a loss and a forced fumble.
“All my (Gryphon) teammates and coaches have been very supportive of this whole process,” he said. “They want the best for me and they're happy to see me go. I wouldn't be in this situation without my teammates and my coaches. Them supporting me just goes to show how much of a family it is at Guelph and with the Guelph program.”
While nothing has been said as to whether NCAA football will actually go ahead this year, Ole Miss is scheduled to start its season Sept. 6 with a game against Baylor in Texas.
“They haven't said anything about that yet. Either way, they play or they don't play, I'm going to be in it full strength,” Robinson said. “As of right now everything's good, but we’ll see what happens.”
There will be a bit of a learning curve for Robinson with the Rebels. The lone Canadian on the team, he’ll have to get used to the four-down game and the lack of space between the offensive and defensive lines during the game. Canadian rules include three downs to gain 10 yards and the defence is to be a yard away from the line of scrimmage when they line up for the play to begin.
“It's going to be different,” Robinson said. “It's the best conference and I did that for a reason. I want to go there and play with the best players so I can become one of the best players. It's going to be a big jump, but I'm definitely ready to compete and see where I'm at. If I want to follow my dreams and make my dreams come true, then I have to play with the best players. It's a big jump, but I'm ready for it for sure.
“I think no room on the line will definitely help me. Obviously with four downs there's a little bit more of the run game involved, but I'm ready to come in and compete and learn.”
Members of the Southeastern Conference, Ole Miss was sixth in the seven-team West Division at 2-6. Five of the conference’s 14 teams were ranked in the top 15 nationally including four in the top 10 – LSU first, Georgia fourth, Florida sixth, Alabama eighth and Auburn 14th.
Ole Miss’s 2020 schedule features games against division rivals LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Arkansas as well as Florida and Vanderbilt from the East Division. The other games on their schedule are against Baylor, Southeast Missouri, UConn and Georgia Southern.
While playing with the Gryphons, Robinson’s pro goals would’ve been in the CFL. Joining the Rebels also shifts his goals.
“This is what will bring the NFL into the equation where staying here was mainly CFL,” he said. “Making the jump there will make the NFL more of a possibility.”
Robinson will be changing his educational focus, too. He studies landscape architecture at the University of Guelph, but will be studying business at Mississippi.
“Business will go with landscape architecture,” he said.
While the Canadian university football season has been cancelled, the players have kept up their own workouts without violating the province’s social distancing mandate.
“One of my teammates has a full gym in his shed so I've been going there every day and hitting the local grass fields every day,” he said. “All the guys I live with have been working out the same as we would have.”
Robinson is one and five other Gryphon football players are roommates in a house near the campus, making them eligible to continue working out together.
The other five should be looking for a new roommate after Robinson leaves for the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Miss.
“I'm aiming for early July, but it depends on when the academic stuff goes through and the transcripts get sent over and all that,” he said.
Until then he’ll continue working out with his soon-to-be former teammates.
“I’ll just keep working on my skills and my speed and weight training,” he said. “I’ll just keep on doing what I've been doing to keep getting stronger and faster.”