Unlike quite a few of his Hurricanes teammates, Luther Robinson doesn’t go by a nickname.
But if the 6-3, 290-pound junior defensive tackle did, he says with a smile, “pepperoni” might be fitting.
“I’m a pizza man,” said Robinson, who used to frequently order a large pepperoni pie from Papa John’s and eat it all by himself in his dorm room.
“It’s been a minute. I had to slow down because it was slowing me down.”
Robinson isn’t slow anymore. And he’s isn’t eating large pizzas all by himself anymore either.
He’s leaner and meaner (he lost 15 pounds and finally passed UM’s gassers test this fall for the first time) and has turned his career around in a matter of months.
Heading into Saturday’s season opener at Boston College, Robinson is “right there” in terms of winning a starting job, according to coach Al Golden. And that’s no small feat when you consider Golden was so fed up with Robinson’s poor conditioning the coach was trying to get him to switch sides and play offensive guard.
“It couldn’t go on the way it was going on,” said Golden, who wasn’t happy it got out that coaches were urging him to switch positions.
“He made changes in his life and he made changes in his approach, and I’m happy for the kid. I couldn’t be more happy for someone in terms of the change they made and the growth they’ve shown. … Everything has changed for him.”
Getting everything to change in terms of Miami’s strength up front is what Golden sought after the Eagles pushed the Hurricanes around in last season’s finale at Sun Life Stadium. The Canes’ entire focus in the offseason was getting bigger and stronger so they could win in the trenches.
UM did that in the weight room, according to strength coach Andrew Swasey. According to Swasey, 36 players were bench pressing 225 pounds (the NFL testing standard) at least 20 times (up from 11 last season), and seven more were doing it at least 30 times.
“I hope we’re more physical,” Golden said. “If you’re going to test that, this is the right outfit to test it against.”
Robinson, who missed the 2011 season with a broken foot and has two career starts (2010) and three career tackles under his belt, said he tested out at 31 reps. But as strong as he is, center Shane McDermott and guard Brandon Linder, who go up against Robinson on a daily basis, said speed has become his game.
“He’s coming off the ball hard, running off the ball, chasing the ball down,” Linder said. “I’ve never seen him in this great of a shape. I think he’s just going to go out and smash people.”
The Hurricanes haven’t had a smasher up front at defensive tackle in awhile. Could Robinson be that guy?
Defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio said two weeks ago — the last time assistants were made available to the media — that he had not seen much separation at defensive tackle among Robinson, sophomore Olsen Pierre, senior Darius Smith and a collection of freshmen led by Earl Moore. But as a group, D’Onofrio said, they could be good.
Sophomore defensive end Anthony Chickillo, who said “there is no hiding” that UM was physically outclassed last season by BC, said he expects improvement across the board on the defensive line because of the increased strength numbers.
Golden, meanwhile, is taking a wait and see approach.
“We’re going to find out Saturday at 3:30,” Golden said.
Said Robinson: “We’ve got a lot to prove. Everybody is saying we’re young. But we have to come out and not play young.”