Behind the face mask: Wan’Dale Robinson


Former Kentucky football player Kash Daniel (left) and wide receiver Wan’dale Robinson (right) high five each other during the UK football Fan Day open practice on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Scott Clarke

There are a lot of words to describe junior wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson. He’s lightning-quick on the field. He’s explosive; any time he’s got the ball in his hands, he’s a threat to score. He’s versatile, can return punts and kicks and line up at wide receiver or running back. Above all else, though, he is a Kentuckian.

Robinson, a Frankfort native, grew up about 40 minutes from the University of Kentucky’s campus. He attended Western Hills High School and became one of the best high school football players the state has ever seen, finishing second all-time in state history in points scored with 781. He was also named Mr. Kentucky Football his senior year and an All-American.

He racked up many college offers in high school, originally committing to Kentucky in November 2018. However, about a month later, he decommitted and decided to play for Scott Frost and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

He attracted attention his freshman year with 340 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns as well as 40 receptions, 453 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns. He instantly showed that with his ground game as well as his receiving, his versatility was going to be a problem for opposing defenses. He was a finalist for the 2019 Paul Hornung Award, which is given out to college football’s most versatile player and was ultimately won by UK’s Lynn Bowden, Jr.

Going into his sophomore season, he was looking to improve on his freshman year, helping propel Nebraska back into the college football spotlight. Off the field, however, trouble arose.

Robinson’s mother, Victoria Davis, was hospitalized toward the end of 2020 after contracting COVID-19. Being almost 780 miles away from home was hard on Robinson while his mother was battling the virus along with her multiple sclerosis. He knew he had to be closer to her, and on Jan. 11, 2021, he announced he would be entering the transfer portal.

“Anyone who knows me knows she’s the biggest reason I play the game of football. Being away from my mother and not seeing her during the season hurt me,” he said to the Lincoln Journal Star. “I intend to find a place closer to my mother that will still allow me to achieve my dreams and goals.”

After he entered the transfer portal, it was highly rumored he would be a Wildcat, and on Jan. 15, 2021, that rumor was confirmed.

On Twitter, he posted a photo of him in a Kentucky football uniform with the words “Homestate Hero” across it. His arrival may have come two years later than what Big Blue Nation and recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Vince Marrow would have wanted, but finally, Robinson was home.

“Wan’Dale is a very professional young man,” Marrow said. “A lot of guys with his type of talent you would think would have a chip on their shoulder or be arrogant. He broke my heart two years ago [when he committed to Nebraska] but he came back and I know the whole state is excited that he’s back too.”

Marrow would go on to say that when Robinson first arrived at training camp this spring, he wanted to show his teammates that nothing was given to him from the coaching staff and that he earned his spot, which earned him the respect from the guys in the locker room.

Robinson isn’t the only newcomer that has high expectations here in Lexington. Liam Coen left his position as assistant quarterbacks coach with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams to become the new offensive coordinator at UK. It’s no secret Coen wants to spread the ball out more with a new passing attack, something that Robinson has already thrived in during practices.

“I’ve really been able to move around a lot in different spots in the offense, from being in the slot or on the outside, just a lot of different formations,” Robinson said. “I line up in a lot of different places and run a lot of different routes and [am] able to do a lot of different things to help our offense be more balanced.”

Robinson’s teammates also see the impact he’s made on the field, including senior tight end Justin Rigg.

“He is a really big game changer because you see those smaller receivers,” Rigg said. “They’re fast and quick and do about anything on the field. You put them anywhere and they can do it and I think as a defense, it’s hard to prepare for that.”

So far, the move back home for Robinson has worked out on the football side of things. However, being closer to his family has been the biggest benefit for him.

“It’s been amazing being back home. I have a little sister that’s one-and-a-half years old, so just being able to see my family and have them come up here and talk to them and watch me play has been a blessing,” he said.