Robustelli not banking on, but is looking for, shot at pro ball

(Photo by Skip Tapp - Widespread Photography)
(Photo by Skip Tapp - Widespread Photography)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Andrew Robustelli knows they are out there and knows they are looking at him. He finds the attention somewhat sobering.

More than a dozen professional football scouts have come and gone from Jacksonville University football practices this season and they all have one thing in mind …

Where is number 83?

That, of course, is Robustelli's number. The scouts gaze the field, find the number and watch the tight end turned wide receiver go through his paces.

They all see the same thing. One hundred percent all the time. No letup; no give up.

"I am aware they are looking and it's very humbling,'' Robustelli, a senior from Sarasota, Fla., said. "Coming out of high school I never thought I would have the chance to possibly play past college ball. It's a little hard to keep emotions under control. As a little kid you want to make it to the next league and not a lot of people have the opportunity to play college ball let alone the possibility to make it further. So, it's all very humbling.''

He chooses his words, especially 'humbling' very carefully. He's polite with yes sirs and handshakes; the kind of behavior you'd expect from a serious accounting major who will be fine whether he goes to the NFL, a Big Four accounting firm or decides to hang out his own shingle.

And, in his understated style, despite what he has done at JU it wasn't until this season it dawned on him there might be glimmer of hope for a future in pro ball.

"This year the scouts come out to practice and even though I had a great season last year, I never really thought I could do it,'' he said. "People have told me I have the ability. All the scouts coming through watching me practice and our games have really opened my eyes that I really might have the ability to do it.''

Last season, he had 51 catches for 1,063 yards and 11 touchdowns; this year he has 30 catches for 471 yards and his next catch will the 100th of his career. At 1,837 receiving yards, he is fifth on the all-time JU list and poised to move to third (held by Jon Turner with 1,874).

His ability notwithstanding, Robustelli has another intangible that gets NFL scouts' hearts racing. He has pedigree. His grandfather, the late Andy Robustelli, is an NFL Hall of Famer and former New York Giant great.

It's a legacy the grandson seems to wrestle with.

"I'm half and half,'' he said. "I embrace it but at the same time it is a little hard especially since I'm the first one in our family to be named after him, it puts a little pressure on me. I try to go through every day and do what I want to do and live my life. I do want to follow in his footsteps but it does put pressure on me. It's a weird question for me because I do embrace it but at the same time it's tough to have the same name. It's just a lot.''

His immediate family, he said, is supportive no matter where life takes him.

"I'm pretty sure they know the pressure but they just want what is best for me. They know football would be a great opportunity if I have a shot to keep playing, but that's why I'm in college and they know that I am here to get my degree so I have a permanent plan.''

 Robustelli has his work ethic and football knowledge to thank for his current position. He doesn't think he does anything "exceptional'' but does plenty right.

If he were a scout, what would he see in number 83?

 "I think I do everything pretty well,'' he said. "And, I think my motor is non-stop. That's always been there. And training over the summer where Coach (Andrew) Bates (JU head strength and conditioning coach), with our conditioning really pushes us to where you have to push to make your times. That transitions into football regardless of how tired I am I just keep pushing through.''

Bates can't find a better pupil.

"He's one of the kids who comes in every day and from start to finish gives 100 percent effort all the time,'' Bates said. "There's never a question about how hard he's working. A lot of time you have to tell him to chill out a bit because he's working too hard.''

Bates is quick to point out the 210-pound Robustelli was the team's best "lunge walker'' lugging around 297 pounds of weight until this season when offensive lineman Kevin Battle finally took that crown.

"For his position, he's pretty damn strong, but you get strong through your effort,'' Bates said. "His effort brings him to that high level. He doesn't let anything get by.''

JU wide receivers coach Nick Navarro says the interest in Robustelli is legitimate.

"I think it is,'' Navarro said. "He's got the measurables, he's got the work ethic, he's that blue-collar kind of guy that I think would be fit for an NFL team to at least give a look at. He's a guy they can rely on and he's obviously been a big factor for us here. With his family having some connections, that helps, too. Aside from that he fits what would be a reason to look.''

Navarro says he's been impressed with Robustelli's penchant to keep learning.

"He's a really football savvy guy and he knows how to use what he's got to his advantage,'' Navarro said. "He's constantly trying to get better and constantly learning. He runs hard, plays physical, runs good, crisp, clean routes. Those things are unteachable qualities. He's one of the best I've ever coached by far. By far.''

- Jim Nasella