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Trenton Robinson: Hard Work Pays Off

Posted Sep 8, 2012

Trenton Robinson had worn a blue shirt before, but none like the one he donned earlier this week at 49ers headquarters. As he sat at his locker – his NFL locker – Robinson looked around the room at 52 other men he could finally call teammates.

The small white patch over his heart featured the name “Trenton” in dark blue cursive and it could only mean one thing: he made the team.

Players and coaches alike wear the Jim Harbaugh-issued, blue-collar shirts every day around 4949 Centennial Blvd. It’s a fitting symbol of the blue-collar work ethic that surrounds the franchise on a daily basis.

But on Sunday, Robinson will trade in his blue threads for a crisp, white No. 30 jersey. He’ll be a member of the San Francisco 49ers, surrounded by the green and gold pageantry of the Packers and Lambeau Field.

Somewhere in the midst of the all the cheeseheads will be Robinson’s brother, Trey Cochran, a converted 49ers fan. They don’t have the same parents or surname, but make no mistake, Robinson and Cochran are brothers.

More than two years of sharing a basement bedroom will do that.

“It just made our relationship stronger,” Robinson said. “It helps you realize there’s a lot of good people out there in the world. We’re brothers.”

Waiting For the Call

Draft day is always tough on the nerves for a player like Robinson. Ditto for Cochran.

In the days leading up to the NFL Draft, Cochran was on the phone with Robinson’s agent, calling up writers, scouring Twitter and searching all the latest mock drafts to try and get a feel for Robinson’s draft slot. But when the picks started falling off the board, Cochran just threw all of his pre-draft expectations out the window.

“That was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life,” Cochran said. “I can’t imagine how he was feeling.”

To celebrate the occasion, Robinson and his family and friends gathered at the house of Robinson’s girlfriend. There was also a local TV crew there documenting the drama, only adding to the anxiety. The Michigan State alum expected to be drafted anywhere from the third round to the seventh round, but day 2 of the draft came and went without any mention of his name.

Then the third day came around and Robinson didn’t have to wait anymore. With the 10th pick of the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers selected Robinson and his family went wild. Robinson himself was in a back room trying to compose his thoughts, but he received a phone call from Coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke.

Moments later, Robinson emerged from the hallway with a bright, red official 49ers draft hat. The father of Robinson’s girlfriend bought 32 hats leading up to the draft, one for each team, to ensure Robinson had some fresh gear to throw on immediately.

“I was just so happy when he finally got that call,” Cochran said. “You should have seen his face. He was just shocked and happy and everything at the same time.”


In the middle of his sophomore year at high school, Robinson needed some help. Cochran and his family answered the call.

“I had some things going on back home and I had to make a decision,” Robinson said. “His family let me come in and it was a blessing to live with them for a while. We just grew closer during that time.”

For the final two-plus years of high school, Robinson and Cochran were nearly inseparable. They slept in the same room, made the quick six-block drive through the neighborhood to school, went to practice after class, ate dinner, played video games and did it all over again.

To their classmates, Robinson was T-Rob and Cochran was T-Coch. Whenever someone addressed them and started to say “T,” both would turn their heads before they heard the second half of the nickname.

“We slept two feet away from each other for two and a half years before we went on to college,” Cochran said. “We always look back on those years and think, ‘Man, we wish we could go back to that time.’ It was just so much fun living with your best friend and brother essentially. We were together 24/7.”

Robinson’s family and Cochran’s family have maintained a tight relationship throughout the years. Once Robinson settles in and gets his own place in the Bay Area, Cochran will be one of the first ones to come visit.

“My mom is my everything,” Robinson said. “But his mom, I love her to death. She’s like a second mother to me.”

Eventually, they would go their separate ways – Robinson to Michigan State and Cochran to Wisconsin Lutheran – but not before sharing some special moments with each other on the football field.

Robinson was a track star at Bay City (Mich.) Central high school and a playmaker on the gridiron, where he was used as a running back, receiver and cornerback. There’s a video on YouTube of Robinson as a junior, streaking down the right seam and hauling in a game-winning touchdown pass with less than two minutes remaining.

“Our quarterback literally just threw the ball as far and hard as he could,” Cochran said. “Trenton just ran past everyone on the field – smoked everybody – and he runs under the ball and we win our first district championship in, like, 30 years.”

College Life

For the first time in four years, Robinson watched Michigan State take the field at Spartan Stadium last week without him. It was great to see his former teammates – or “Spartan Dawgs” as he calls them – claim a 17-13 victory over Boise State, but it was a bit weird not wearing his green No. 39 jersey and being part of the action.

“It was crazy,” Robinson said. “It felt a little different but it was awesome. I’m moving on in life and moving to the highest level of football. It was weird, but at least I’m watching it from where I’m watching it from.”

Robinson was just an undersized, two-star recruit coming out of high school, but he raised some eyebrows at Michigan State, which was 90 minutes south of home. He even went on an official visit with Saints running back Mark Ingram, another local kid who was drawing a lot of interest from the Spartans.

Ultimately, Robinson committed to Michigan State as a cornerback, before blossoming into an All-Big 10 safety and team leader. Current 49ers tight end Garrett Celek went through the college grind with Robinson and the two are proud to have made the same 53-man roster.

“He was one of those guys who would get up in front of the team and get everybody excited and hyped up for games,” Celek said. “Everyone just looked up to him because he was a great football player.”

Throughout their four-year careers at Michigan State, Robinson and Celek went undefeated against archrival Michigan. Just don’t tell Harbaugh, the proudest Michigan man on the 49ers.

While he was in East Lansing, Robinson also befriended one of his former high school foes Draymond Green, the star of Michigan State’s basketball team. Robinson and Green, who was recently selected by the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the NBA draft, competed against each other on the hardwood, but it didn’t always end well for Robinson. Green was nearly a foot taller than Robinson and had the athleticism to match.

“It didn’t work out too well,” Robinson said with a laugh. “He swears he scored like 25 or 30 points on me in the first half, but I don’t believe it.”

Time To Work

Robinson’s locker sits on the west wall of the 49ers locker room, sandwiched between those of Frank Gore and Anthony Dixon. Just two stalls down, on the other side of Gore, is where you can find Donte Whitner.

Shortly after joining the 49ers in May, Robinson quickly sought out Whitner for his advice. The heady, hard-hitting veteran is the perfect role model for Robinson, who frequently threw his body around with reckless abandon to make impact plays throughout the preseason.

Now that Robinson made the 53-man cut, the real work starts.

“Especially being a sixth-round pick, it’s tough to make an NFL roster,” Whitner said. “But he understands that this is not the end or his arrival moment. He still has a lot of work to do each and every day. It’s a lot, a lot, a lot of hard work from this point on and he understands that.”

Listed at 5-foot-9, 193 pounds, Robinson doesn’t possess the prototypical size of an NFL safety. But if anyone knows how to throw around his weight, it’s Whitner, who checks in 5-foot-10, 208. Coupled with the guidance of respected men like defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, Robinson found himself quite a home in the NFL.

“Even though we’re rookies, they treat us with respect,” Robinson said. “Then you have guys at your position who are veteran guys that have been in this game for a long time. For me, I’m in a great position to learn from some great safeties. It’s been a smooth transition so far.”

Robinson earned a role as a second-string safety throughout training camp and received a lion’s share of the playing time during the preseason contests. He also took a spot on the “Tony Montana Squad” kickoff coverage team and made his name known to the 49ers coaching staff, but don’t expect him to tell you about his early NFL triumphs.

“If we were to come over your house to watch TV, play video games and eat dinner, you would never know he plays NFL football,” Cochran said. “Not that he doesn’t look the part, but because he’s literally the most humble person I know. He just loves life and he loves being around his family and friends. He doesn’t even talk about football that much.”

Week 1

For an NFL debut, it’d be harder to pick a more historic venue than Lambeau Field.

The expected sunny, 70-degree weather won’t be vintage, but Robinson and the 49ers don’t care. If he gets the chance to play on Sunday, Robinson is looking forward to a possible on-field reunion with former college teammate, rookie Packers defensive lineman Jerel Worthy.

“I just talked to him last night,” Robinson said earlier this week. “He’s talking junk already. He’s on the kick-off return team and he’s on the wedge so he’s telling me he’s going to knock me out. But he’s my guy, we were just having fun.”

From Bay City to the Bay Area, Robinson has forged his own path and overcome outside expectations. Now he’s ready to work.

“It feels good to finally have all the hard work pay off,” Robinson said. “Now I’m really getting an opportunity to go out and play and make a name and try and help this team get to the Super Bowl.”

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