LINCOLN — The top all-purpose player on Nebraska’s offense each of the past two seasons is leaving the program.
Wan’Dale Robinson, who amassed 1,725 all-purpose yards and seven touchdowns in 18 games with the Huskers, is entering the transfer portal after weighing his options over the weekend. He was NU’s leading receiver in 2020 with 51 catches for 461 yards, and, serving as an emergency option at running back, racked up 580 rushing yards over two seasons. Robinson may transfer close to his home state of Kentucky, in part because of a family member who was recently hospitalized due to COVID-19.
A celebrated prep running back from Frankfort, Kentucky, Robinson was NU’s top-rated recruit in the 2019 class — dramatically landing with the Huskers after originally committing to his home-state school, Kentucky. And though only a freshman, Robinson was selected as the Husker player to speak at the school’s announcement for its new football facility in September 2019.
By then, Robinson had already played a key role in the Huskers beating Illinois 42-38, and against Northwestern, when he amassed 186 all-purpose yards, he was the deciding factor in a 13-10 win two weeks later when he scored NU’s only touchdown and had the catch that set up the winning field goal.
“I’m glad he’s wearing scarlet and cream,” coach Scott Frost said during the 2019 season.
Now, Robinson’s departure leaves Nebraska with a gaping hole in terms of receiver production — the team’s No. 2 receiver, freshman Zavier Betts, had 12 catches for 131 yards — and one of the young leaders on a team still growing into maturity.
He saved two of his best games for the Huskers’ last two wins of 2020, amassing 119 rushing and receiving yards at Purdue — and outplaying mentor and friend Rondale Moore — in a 37-27 win, and then racking up 103 total yards and two touchdowns at Rutgers. Robinson absorbed and withstood significant physical punishment in the Rutgers game.
It was a sharp contrast to Robinson’s usage and production in the first two games of the season, when he touched the ball 11 times for 76 yards in losses to Ohio State and Northwestern. Frost vowed, after those two games, that Robinson — who came to Nebraska desiring a featured role — would get the ball more.
“He's playing a spot at slot where pretty much everybody I’ve had in my offense that I’ve coached has good numbers to big numbers,” Frost said in mid-November. “It just hasn't happened the first two weeks. In that spot that's kind of the focus of our offense, that slot position, a lot. I think it’s just a matter of time that the ball finds him in our normal offense and we’ll design whatever we need to make sure he’s a part of what we’re doing.”
Robinson topped more than 100 total yards in four of his last five games. He likely becomes one of the most coveted players in the NCAA transfer portal.
Nebraska loses the only receiver recruit, in the past three years, that has been an unqualified hit for the Huskers.
All six of the receiver recruits from the 2018 class either graduated, left or were kicked off the team. In Robinson’s class, which had four receivers, only he has played a snap, while two more didn’t travel and a third left the team.
Nebraska then signed five more in 2020. Betts is the most productive, followed by Alante Brown (three catches, 41 yards). A third, Marcus Fleming, abruptly left midway through the season after catching five passes — he’s since transferred to Maryland. Another, Omar Manning, was the No. 1 junior college receiver recruit in 2020 class who missed all but one game due to “health” reasons. Will Nixon tore his ACL over the summer. NU signed three more pass catchers in the 2021 class, plus flex tight end Thomas Fidone, who can play as receiver.
Can any of them play running back? Robinson did — a lot. He toted the ball 134 times over two years, third only to Dedrick Mills and Adrian Martinez since the start of 2019. Other than Mills, who is still mulling over his decision on whether to return for his extra season at NU, the Huskers have no experienced running backs.
Robinson was always up for whatever helped the team the most.
“Whatever they need me to do,” Robinson said before the 2020 season. “I'll go back to running back for a few plays if I need to do that. If they need me to stay at receiver, I'll do that as well. It's all up to them."
He’ll do “whatever” for another program in 2021.