It’s hard to look at Patton Robinette’s resume and not be impressed. At 6-foot-4 and 212 pounds, Robinette has about every attribute you look for in a quarterback. And although he has only played extensively in three college games so far, it’s difficult to not like what you’ve seen.
He’s smart. After the Commodores’ historic win against Georgia, the first thing head coach James Franklin said about Robinette, who hopes to one day become a physician, was that he got a 36 on his ACT and had a 4.55 GPA in high school.
He wins games. Robinette won three state championships at Maryville High School and capped off his high school career with 28 straight wins. He’s played three of the tougher teams in the SEC, and he won two of them.
He also has a plethora of football-related honors. In high school, Robinette was named Tennessee’s Gatorade Football Player of the Year over now-teammate Brian Kimbrow and was invited to the Elite 11 national quarterback camp along with players like Florida State’s Jameis Winston, one of the best young quarterbacks in the nation.
Robinette has all the makings of a very good quarterback, and having already led the Commodores to two signature wins, it’s difficult to imagine him anywhere else. The fact of the matter is Robinette originally had no plans to play in Nashville.
He was going to be a Tar Heel.
Robinette committed to the University of North Carolina in June 2011. Even when head coach Butch Davis was fired a month later and eventually replaced by Larry Fedora, Robinette stood by his commitment and enrolled early in January 2012.
One day into orientation at Chapel Hill, however, Robinette decided he wasn’t at the right school. The day before classes started, he decommitted from UNC to go to Vanderbilt.
“You have no idea. (The decision) was very difficult,” Robinette said in an interview with the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I was going through orientation. It didn’t feel right for me … my heart wasn’t in it. I think I’ve known that for a while. I want to be at Vanderbilt.”
Enrolling early, Robinette spent his first year and a half on campus only practicing because he was redshirted. Although he never saw any game action, he gleaned a lot from coaches and teammates, specifically starting quarterback Jordan Rodgers and wide receiver Jordan Matthews.
Rodgers and Robinette, who play with very similar styles, were roommates on the road, and Rodgers gave the younger quarterback small tips here and there like how to prepare in the film room, how to become a better leader and how to succeed at the SEC level. Matthews would always stay after practice if Robinette wanted to get in a few more throws.
A year later, Robinette was listed as the third-string quarterback behind redshirt senior Austyn Carta-Samuels and redshirt sophomore Josh Grady. Although Franklin tells every player to prepare like a starter, it certainly wasn’t Robinette’s expectation that he’d be starting by the end of the year.
Halfway through the season, the reality proved to be different. A knee injury to Carta-Samuels in the Georgia game threw Robinette directly into the fire. To give his team a shot, the largely unproven quarterback had to succeed against one of the premier teams in the SEC.
And succeed he did.
Robinette led the Commodores from down three in the second quarter to a season-changing 31-28 victory against the Bulldogs. Though he suffered a 56-24 loss against Texas A&M in his first start, Robinette kept his demeanor calm and his confidence unshaken.
“It’s hard going on the road for your first start in a state like that,” Matthews said after the game. “But I think the good thing about it is that I never saw him get rattled. He does a really good job of keeping his emotions in check.”
Two weeks later, Robinette led the Commodores into Gainesville for another huge SEC victory over the Florida Gators.
His numbers (30-for-55 passing for 390 yards and four total touchdowns to three interceptions in three starts) won’t blow people out of the water like Winston’s do at Florida State. Part of that, though, has to do with Franklin’s conservative use of Robinette as a game manager. More than his stats, the wins are important to Robinette, something instilled in him from high school.
“Playing under Coach (George) Quarles and with all my guys back there, winning is an expectation,” Robinette said. “If you go 14-1 and win the state championship but lose to Alcoa (High School), who is our cross-town rival, it’s not a good season.”
Robinette will need to lead his team to at least one more win to secure Vanderbilt’s bowl eligibility for the third consecutive season, but he has even higher hopes.
“Having Coach Franklin here taking the program to a new direction,” he said. “Especially growing up as somebody that lives in the South, it’s really special when you see how far Coach Franklin has brought us, and I want to be a part of it.”