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Gelen Robinson pursues his passion with XFL's Dallas Renegades
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Gelen Robinson pursues his passion with XFL's Dallas Renegades

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Gelen Robinson will do whatever it takes to take care of his family, including taking chances on an unproven football league after previously being burned in a similar situation.

Robinson is a defensive end in the second undertaking of the XFL. It's an opportunity he waited for after the abrupt ending of the Alliance of American Football without warning after 10 weeks, leaving Robinson jobless and having to pay for his family to move back to their Indianapolis home out of his own pocket.

“The XFL — everyone had questions about it. It had been confirmed it was coming but no information had come about. Really I was just taking a chance; at that time it was right after the AAF ended and I was home for a couple of weeks,” Robinson said. “Canada calls and they wanted me to go up there and the XFL was a big unknown still. I was taking a huge chance not knowing anything about the coaches, not knowing anything about the draft or workouts that I’d go to, or anything involving the XFL. I just decided that was going to be the opportunity I’d go with if I’m going to keep continuing to play ball.”

In the time between the AAF and XFL, Robinson’s life was at a crossroads. The Lake Central product searched for work and ended up working for a moving company to provide for his family, including his now-18-month-old daughter Rain.

He had a tryout for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars that didn’t pan out and a training camp invitation from the Canadian Football League that he turned down in anticipation of the XFL.

“I knew I’d have the opportunity to go and play," he said, "but it’s more of a ‘Do I want to go out and look for my career right now? Football is a great career but do I want to go find this career job or do I want to continue to train or continue my passion that I love?’

“I decided to give it all I have for the XFL and it’s worked out pretty well so far.”

Robinson has found a home with Dallas Renegades as a pass rusher, and sees a league that will have staying power due to the connections made with their fans. He's been a multi-dimensional lineman, tying for the most run stops in Week 1 and pressuring the quarterback in the pass game.

Those are the same skills that earned him All-Big Ten honors in 2017 while playing for Purdue. It's also why he continues to get opportunities at the professional level.

"A lot of coaches and a lot of people assumed it would be a passing league, so obviously pass rushing would be a huge emphasis on league’s like this," Robinson said. "At the professional level, that’s what they look for anyway.”

The league — which features eight teams and has all games broadcast on ABC, ESPN or FOX — brings additional analysis to fans with live microphones on coaches, in-game interviews with coaches and players after big plays and possession changes, and has a significant presence on social media.

When the Renegades (2-1) aren't playing, Robinson has observed the differences compared to other leagues.

“It’s always fun to see a different twist and a different side of football. They’re making fan interaction a really big emphasis,” Robinson said. “It’s really cool how they’re building this league up. They’re really paving the ground for next year and years to come for the success of the league.”

His own interaction has come in the esports world, becoming well-known for his Call of Duty skills and playing with fans online. Robinson has a portable setup to take his gaming on the road with a television and Playstation 4 that can be played anywhere with an outlet. It’s a trend Robinson has started among his teammates.

It’s even drawn the attention of the Dallas Empire, the professional Call of Duty team based in Dallas. They want to have Robinson out to their arena to put his skills to the test.

“I like to say I’m the best Call of Duty player in the Midwest. But that’s just me. Others may disagree,” Robinson said.

Though, when asked if he’s the best in the South, he admitted he’ll find out.

“(The Empire has) reached out and want to play. I know a kid on the team that’s real good at Call of Duty,” he said.

Gaming is a hobby, Robinson said, but he isn't letting that halt his pursuit of his ultimate dream: playing in the NFL.

“That’s always going to be the big goal. Everybody wants to be on a NFL roster and see their name up there. But for me it’s just playing the game,” he said. “I’m just happy to be out here and getting a chance to play the game I love at any level. It’s something that my body won’t allow me to do forever, so I’m trying to make the most out of it while I can.”

Robinson, the son of Purdue basketball legend Glenn Robinson and brother of Philadelphia 76ers forward Glenn Robinson III, places a high value on family. For as much as he loves football, he ultimately will do what’s best for his family, which is his motivation and biggest fans.

“That’s the question that every athlete faces and, for me, it is Rain, my family and my girlfriend,” Robinson said of his motivation. “It’s really motivating to have a family behind you that supports you in everything you do, no matter what. They really drive me to be the player that I want to be and, obviously, (I want to) give them the lifestyle they deserve. It's super important to me.

"No matter what I’m doing, if I’m in football making millions of dollars or moving boxes at a moving company, they’re always going to come first. I’m always going to be providing for them the way they should be provided for.”

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