Wan'Dale Robinson

Robinson led Nebraska in all-purpose yards in his first game: 21 came on the ground, 33 came through the air on three catches, 77 on kick returns. He almost took one back, too, with a 39-yard return.

LINCOLN — To Wan’Dale Robinson, this is normal.

He wandered out of the locker room with his hands in his pockets, the lanyard of his keys hanging out. As he took his spot next to the nutrition station near the weight room to speak to the media for the first time since arriving on campus, a TV camera light flicked on.

The true freshman squinted and put up his hand. The circle of lights closed in. He put his hands back in his pocket. He sighed.

“(This is) nothing different from high school,” Robinson said with a shrug. “After games, I was getting interviews and stuff. So it’s all the same.”

Save for the jersey color, he wasn’t far off.

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In high school, the four-star prospect and Mr. Football in Kentucky, took snaps at running back, receiver and returner. He shook linebackers loose and made the game look easy, racking up more than 20 scholarship offers and becoming the No. 1 all-purpose back in the 2019 class.

On Saturday, Robinson led a Division I football team in all-purpose yards in his first game: 21 came on the ground, 33 came through the air on three catches, 77 on kick returns. He almost took one back, too, with a 39-yard return.

Same old, same old.

“I felt really, really good the whole game and I think I played really, really well,” Robinson said.

That wasn’t the case with the entire offense.

NU scored 14 offensive points in the 35-21 win over South Alabama. Against a Sun Belt school, the Huskers ran for 98 yards — 2.2 yards per carry. The Jaguars stifled Heisman Trophy candidate Adrian Martinez, holding him to 13 for 22 passing for 178 yards and a pick.

But Robinson was the bright spot.

“I thought he had a good first day,” NU coach Scott Frost said. “I think if the offense could have kept the ball longer, he could have gotten more opportunities. He’s going to be more versatile as time goes on and as he learns and is more comfortable in different spots.”

It’s long been assumed that Robinson would contribute immediately, but new additions and true freshmen don’t always pan out in Game 1.

Junior college running back Greg Bell fumbled on the first drive last season and transferred after four games. In two years, highly touted recruit Tyjon Lindsey couldn’t find consistent success and transferred after four games last year. Miles Jones has struggled to get on the field. Junior college transfers Mike Williams and Jaron Woodyard haven’t contributed like coaches have wanted.

In Frost’s postgame press conference, he pointed out that redshirt freshman Cameron Jurgens and transfer Kanawai Noa are getting over injuries and aren’t quite in shape yet.

Robinson is new. He was injured in fall camp and still was able to do exactly what he came to do.

Which he expected.

“I expect to do whatever I have to do every week,” Robinson said. “So, however much they throw at me I feel like I can take it all in.”

Robinson arrived on campus in spring and almost immediately drew praise from coaches on both sides of the ball. Defensive players complained of chasing him around the Hawks Center. Then a hamstring injury took him out of the spring game.

That lingered into fall camp, when he was on somewhat of a pitch count. He practiced some days, was off others.

Robinson said he still attended running back and wide receiver meetings in camp. Some days, offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Troy Walters grabs him and running backs coach Ryan Held has to follow up with Robinson later. And vice versa.

He knows all the wide receiver spots. The running back blocking schemes. The ins and outs of the Duck-R position. That’s a load.

“I feel like it doesn’t take me long (to prepare),” Robinson said. “I feel like I’m a smart kid when it comes to football. I understand a lot of things that freshmen don’t.

“It’s just been really, really easy, especially walking with Coach Walters and Coach Held, they make sure I’m making sure I see everything clearly, too.”

For as confident as Robinson is, stepping out in front of about 90,000 for the first kickoff even shook him. He initially fumbled the ball near the 3-yard-line.

“I was like, dang, Coach Walters is gonna yell at me,” Robinson said.

But he picked it up and ran out 11 yards. He then took Nebraska’s first offensive play of the game 2 yards. And every time he touched the ball after, besides one rush, he gained 6 or more yards.

Which added up to the best day for a Husker on offense.

Or, for Robinson, a normal game day.

“Just doing the same thing I’ve been doing since I was 5 years old,” he said.

Chris Heady covers Husker football and is the Nebraska men's basketball beat writer. He started at The World-Herald in 2017. Follow him on Twitter @heady_chris. Email: chris.heady@owh.com.

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