All things considered, Gelen Robinson couldn't have asked for a better finish to a Purdue football career that has had fewer ups than downs.
With Saturday's win over rival Indiana, their first in four years, the Boilermakers became bowl eligible for the first time since the Lake Central grad arrived on the West Lafayette campus.
"It was an amazing experience," Robinson said. "As a senior, it means everything to me. To go out winning the (Old Oaken Bucket) and going to a bowl game, I wouldn't want to go out any other way. I'd never experienced a stadium like that at home, a sellout for the first time in forever, the fans cheering for us. That's what it's all about."
Purdue's drastic improvement from laughing stock to 6-6 was a credit to first-year coach Jeff Brohm, who has attained hero's status at the school while already drawing interest for other jobs. He took somebody else's talent and attained immediate respectability. Robinson was in the precarious situation of being a holdover senior on a team with a new coach, but his final chapter couldn't have been scripted any better.
"I can't thank the coaches enough, how they dealt with us, wanting to send us out how we should, on the right note, to win games for the seniors and get the program back where it should be," Robinson said. "Coach Brohm brought everything possible you could have wanted. His excitement and (defensive coordinator Nick) Holt's scheme, it was incredible to be a part of it. It's something I'll never forget and hopefully Purdue never forgets."
Recruited by former coach Darrell Hazell as a linebacker, Robinson was shifted to end, then moved inside this season to tackle, where he flourished. He led the team with 12.5 tackles for loss and was chosen third team all-Big Ten by the coaches. In the summer, Brohm talked about Robinson's potential being directly related to his effort, play in and play out, and the 6-foot-1, 280-pounder listened.
"I knew I had to be a more consistent player," Robinson said. "They told me, if I want to be great, to be a part of the team being successful, I needed to be that player, give an all out effort, and the results showed. The (tackle) position suited me amazingly. I never would've thought four years ago that I'd be a tackle, but with my growth, gaining weight in a good way, and strength, not being the tallest, it's suits me a lot better with my quickness."
Not that the season was a walk in the park. Purdue's strong start, a close game with Louisville and decisive wins over bowl-bound Ohio and Missouri, were tempered by narrow losses to Rutgers and Nebraska. At 4-6, Purdue was left with no margin for error, having to win at Iowa and against Indiana to get to the six wins needed for a bowl bid.
"The team knew what it had to do," Robinson said. "Coach Brohm gets us to go out and give everything in practice. We had to take that and do it in a game. More of the young guys stepped up, realizing they don't want the season to end. It was just extra effort, everybody doing their part."
Losing had become the culture at Purdue and changing that attitude has been a big part of the transformation under Brohm.
"We competed with teams, we just didn't come out with wins," Robinson said. "Everybody's got great talent. You have to learn how win. It's a mindset. It takes time to accomplish that. At the end of the season, I felt we learned more how to win, what it takes, and we can pass it down to the underclassmen."
Robinson will graduate with a Sales Management degree Dec. 17, making his mama prouder than anything he can do on a football field. Like the rest of the Boilermakers, he's anxiously awaiting word of where Purdue will go for its bowl game.
"Anywhere we go will be exciting," he said. "It's something I never experienced and always wanted to experience. It's a feeling I can't explain. I'm just proud to be a part of it. Some of these guys I've been with since my freshman year. Our last time playing together, having a chance at a winning record, it's special."