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Mountaineers in the Pros

Former Mountaineer Kenny Robinson Feeling the Love Back at Home with Steelers



Kenny Robinson with Steelers
Image credit to Ed Thompson

When Kenny Robinson was leaving Imani Christian High School in Pittsburgh’s East End after his senior season in 2016, he knew he wanted to get away from home, but he didn’t want to go far.

When Robinson announced his college commitment in October 2016, he picked the West Virginia Mountaineers.

“It’s close to home. It’s the place for me, it feels like. I fit in with the team, I get along with the coaches. I think that’s really the biggest difference right now,” Robinson said to a much younger version of this reporter in 2016. “It’s keeping me from all the stuff here — all the hostile [stuff and] all the people that’s doing bad here. It’ll keep me away from here, but also, I can come back and talk to my parents and get to see my family, things like that.”

Robinson’s football journey after leaving Imani didn’t go the way that he thought or planned, but home has been a theme throughout.

In 2018, Robinson had a breakout season as a redshirt freshman and was an All-Big 12 selection for the Mountaineers. But head coach Dana Holgorsen and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson left WVU. In the spring, the turnover of the coaching staff and some academic issues caused Robinson to enter his name into the NCAA transfer portal.

The transfer portal existed in 2019, but the one-time transfer exemption did not. So Robinson was faced with the prospect of sitting out the 2020 season.

Instead, he went home, back to Pittsburgh, where he trained with Dee Brown of 2/10ths Speed & Agility. Eventually, instead of transferring, Robinson picked a different, unexplored path: The XFL.

He became the first player with remaining college eligibility to enter the XFL Draft, and Robinson played for the St. Louis Battlehawks in the spring of 2020. Though his season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Robinson impressed enough to be selected in the fifth round of that April’s NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers.

Things didn’t work out in Carolina, with Robinson getting minimal playing time over three seasons with the Panthers. Another coaching regime change saw him once again heading home after the 2022 season, searching for his next stop.

This time, it came from a 412 area code with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“It’s been a dream come true being at home, playing for a legendary organization like this,” Robinson said. “It’s just been a blessing, overall. … I could have never imagined it. It’s definitely something that I didn’t expect. It’s definitely a good time.”

Robinson said he’s a more mature person and player that he was when he left the city for the first time back in 2017, and his long and winding path back to Pittsburgh football is the cause of that.

“I feel like it just humbled me a lot,” he said. “It just gave me a chance to hone in and work on myself personally and just figure things out and become a better man. I think that’s helped me a lot in this process.”

So far, his highlights of his return to Pittsburgh have been getting tips of the trade from Steelers All-Pro free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick while getting to eat dinner at his mom’s house “at least four times a week.”

Robinson doesn’t have an easy path to playing time in the Pittsburgh defense. Fitzpatrick, Damontae Kazee and Keanu Neal are all locks. Tre Norwood, a seventh-round pick in 2021, veteran special teamer Miles Killebrew and 2022 practice squad player Elijah Riley all seem clearly ahead of Robinson on the depth chart, but he will get the opportunity to make his move upward when camp starts at St. Vincent College.

Despite growing up in Pittsburgh, he’ll be making his first trip to the Steelers’ summer home in the Laurel Highlands. 

“I can’t wait.”

Taking a Look at Robinson’s Pro Career

41 • Kenny Robinson, Safety, West Virginia
6-foot-2, 200 pounds, 22 years old, 3rd Season

Acquired: Robinson signed a reserve/future contract for the 2023 season with the Steelers on Jan. 11.

Steelers Sign Former WVU Safety Kenny Robinson to Reserve/Future Contract

Last season: Robinson spent most of the 2022 season on the Carolina Panthers practice squad. He did not appear in any games.

Career: Robinson got his pro start with five XFL games in 2020, when he had 19 tackles and earned a 62.4 overall grade from PFF. He was solid in pass coverage with a 56.3 passer rating against, but got dinged for his run stopping.

As a rookie with the Panthers that fall, he played primarily on special teams. Robinson earned a bigger role in 2021, playing 182 snaps of defense. He had 17 tackles, 12 of which came on defense. Robinson was targeted just one in pass coverage, giving up a 12-yard touchdown against the New Orleans Saints.

College: As a true freshman in 2018, Robinson played in all 13 games, starting eight, and racked up 46 tackles and three interceptions, tied for the team lead. His highlight of the season came against Texas when he returned an interception 94 yards for a touchdown. He was named an Honorable Mention All-Big 12 defensive back following the season.

In 2018 Robinson started 12 games at safety and his production improved across the board. He was second on the team with 77 tackles and second in the Big 12 with four interceptions. His best game came against Texas Tech when he intercepted two passes and made a career-high eight tackles. He was named to the All-Big 12 First Team as a defensive back. — Cody Nespor, WV Sports Now

Salary cap and future: Robinson’s one-year contract with the Steelers is worth $940,000 of salary. He did not have a signing bonus. Robinson will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2023 season.

This story initially appeared on our partner site Steelers Now.

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