Most know Stacy Robinson the football coach.
Some aren’t quite as familiar with Stacy Robinson the football star, track champion and basketball player.
Truth is, Robinson the player was just as good as Robinson the coach.
Back in the late 1970s, he went by a different name, “Stace the Ace,” and was one of the most dynamic big-play threats for the Union High football team.
Fear is what separated Robinson’s running ability from most running backs in the WPIAL at the time — fear and speed.
“I could just run. I think I had vision and the ability to cut and accelerate through the hole,” he recalled. “I guess I didn’t want to get run down. I had a fear of getting caught from behind. When I got in the open, I tried to take it to the house.”
That vision and speed has put Robinson on the fast-track to induction to the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame on April 28 at the New Englander.
“When you’re out on that football field, and I’m sure some of the greats could tell you, it’s just the fear of getting caught. Your body does things you couldn’t imagine it would do.”
Not many could catch up to Robinson. As a junior, he rushed for 906 yards and seven touchdowns leading the Scotties to the semifinals of the WPIAL Class AA playoffs. A three-year letter-winner, Robinson followed that performance his senior season with 1,330 yards and 13 touchdowns, placing third in the WPIAL in rushing.
“The thing about Stacy is, he has the quickest start from his position to the line of scrimmage,” said Bob Burnett, who coached Robinson at Union his senior year and also was his brother-in-law at the time. “The only person I saw comparable was Tony Dorsett. He was lightning to that line of scrimmage.”
Robinson also was a speed demon for the track team, capturing a WPIAL championship in the 200 in ’81. It’s not what Robinson accomplished during that meet that he looks back on, it’s what he failed to do.
“I’m still ticked I didn’t win the 100. I should have won the 100, too. I got third,” he said. “I just didn’t get a good start, and you don’t get a chance to do it again. That’s the part I try to press upon my own kids and the guys that I coach. You don’t get to come this way again. Make it happen while you can.”
Robinson was named MVP of the 1981 Tri-County track meet, placing first in the 100, a school and meet record, and 200, a school record. In the state competition, he finished seventh in the 100 and eighth in the 200. He also played basketball for three seasons where he was a guard.
With a competitive fire that still burns, natural talent and a big heart, Robinson managed to overcome a size disadvantage throughout his playing career. He weighed a mere 140 pounds while standing 5-foot-8 by the end of high school.
“I never realized how small I was until I was a junior in college,” Robinson said. “I just never realized it. Finally, I would say, why does my head coach keep talking about little Stacy? I finally looked around and was like man, I guess I am the smallest guy here.”
As one of 14 siblings of Odell and Eleen Robinson, Stacy gained strong influences and developed a passion for sports from his brothers and sisters.
“I think with athletics, or anything in life, it first starts with your home life,” he said. “I’m the youngest of 14 children, so your brothers and sisters, naturally with knowing them and being close to them, you learn from their experiences, the good and the bad, and you take it. I think we all drew from each other. What was instilled with us by our parents, it was just a natural thing.
Becoming a football player became a dream for Robinson after a trip to Pitt Stadium.
“Looking back, it sounds crazy, Bob Burnett took me to a Pitt football game. It was Pitt-Notre Dame, it was 1975, Tony Dorsett. I had been to Pitt stadium to see New Castle win its championship, but I remember walking up the hill and I had never been to a game where Pitt Stadium was full. Tony Dorsett ran for 303 yards. If anybody asked me what was the turning point, I just wanted to be a football player from then on — the tear-away jerseys and the excitement in the stands. It was just unmatched.”
From then on, Robinson fancied himself as Dorsett, mirroring his game after the college and NFL legend. Although he never touched that 303-yard rushing performance, he came close, wrapping up 285 with five touchdowns in his senior season against Midland.
“Ever since I coached against Tony Dorsett when I was with Aliquippa, he amazed me. I was looking for anybody to play like him,” Burnett said. “I told Stacy, if you can play like this guy, you can be one of the best ever.”
Robinson continued his playing career at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where he as a three-year letterman and was awarded the Dan Thompson Memorial Award for most inspirational player in ’84. He became a coaching assistant at the university after graduation.
After his time with IUP, Robinson got a job with the New Castle News as a distributor before eventually moving on to USA Today in a similar role. With his wife, Tina, he has three kids — Drew, 17, Linnell, 22, and a daughter, Christina, 28.
He again would pick up coaching at Union as an assistant from 1992 to 1995. After spending a season as an assistant at New Castle, Robinson would take over the reins for the Scotties varsity team as head coach.
“Coaching is a tough grind. Looking back, I probably may have stayed in it,” he said. “At the time, I thought I should get out and get a regular job and get on with my life’s work so to speak.”
Union met a long desired success under Robinson, as he directed the team to its first three playoff appearances since his playing days and first playoff win (against Beth-Center) since that time. He was awarded the West Penn Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year award in 2000 and 2003, was named the Big Seven Conference Coach of the Year in 2012 and was honored by the Pittsburgh Steelers organization as its Coach of the Week in 2012.
“It was a long climb for us, and not many people thought we could do it because we hadn’t done it since I played. Then to have my son on the team and the sons of a lot of my old teammates from the ’79 team were on that, that was gratifying, and to see the community come together, it’s a good thing.”
Both sons followed in their father’s footsteps in regards to position and success. Linnell was a standout defensive back for Mercyhurst University during his career and Drew, a star running back for the Scotties, intends to leave his own mark at Mercyhurst in the fall.
Many Union fans believed Robinson would call it quits after his sons played their last high school games, but that competitive fire, the same one that has been burning since his playing days, keeps him in it.
“I tell my players all the time, when you’re sitting in the locker room before a game, a big game, you can’t buy that feeling,” he said. “You can be a rich man, but you can’t buy that feeling anywhere else. There’s nothing like it.”
TOMORROW: Andy Tommelleo
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