Graceland’s new head football coach, NATE ROBINSON, has already made his mark at Graceland — and not just on the football field.
Robinson has served in many roles for the Yellowjackets since he joined Graceland’s staff in 2014. He has been the coach for the running backs, wide receivers and special teams, as well as the junior varsity head coach, and he has served as director of football operations and as academic coordinator. Robinson has also become a familiar face to those outside the football program through his extensive work with Graceland’s Black Student Union (BSU).
Robinson first became involved with BSU through his own undergraduate studies, which inspired him to take on the role of co-sponsor with Cathie Hosie for Graceland’s club in 2015. He believes it is important for Graceland to provide an environment that encourages diverse groups to come together, and he has been able to help make that happen at Graceland through the work of BSU.
“Graceland provides spaces that open us up to have conversations, which then leads to larger conversations,” Robinson says. “We have these small communities within the larger community — and that brings us all together at Graceland.”
As the football team’s academic coordinator, Robinson has been able to incorporate his role in the football community into the academic side of Graceland as well. He has created relationships through his efforts to check in on players in the classroom and by dropping in during faculty office hours.
Robinson sees these relationships growing with his new role in football, and, even though his responsibilities will change, he plans to maintain his role as co-sponsor for BSU and intends to continue to check in with faculty and pop in to classes from time to time.
Associate Professor of English Isaac Pressnell says of his experience with Robinson, “Over the past few years, Coach Robinson has proven himself invaluable to our students because of his dedication to them as whole people — academically, athletically and as human beings. He’s built relationships with faculty across disciplines, and these efforts have done a lot to improve communication between athletics and academics, ultimately leading to better support for our students. He is clearly invested in the academic engagement of his students, not as a means to eligibility but because he’s invested in their futures beyond the field, and this shows.”
These continue to be priorities because Robinson believes strongly that it’s the relationships made through our experiences that really matter. As an offensive assistant coach, his relationships with defensive players have been primarily cultivated off the field. It was during the interview process for head coach that he realized just how important the relationships he had built with those student-athletes were to them.
A returning defensive player sat on the interview panel and asked if Robinson’s relationship with defensive players would change if he got the job. He says it gave him chills because it made clear the fact that he had already made a personal impact on that student. As an institution that at its core values learning, wholeness and community, this was a win.
“My relationship with him outside of football meant a lot more to him than me being his head coach,” expressed Robinson. “I want to build our program with players like that — whom those relationships mean a lot more to than just a football game.” He trusts that what comes in return are student-athletes who will give their all — on the field, in the classroom and around campus with other students. So, when he sits down with recruits, he’s looking for more than athletic talent. However, he also recognizes that a good fit goes two ways.
“To win in college football, you have to have juniors and seniors. So, right now, my goal is to turn the freshmen and sophomores into juniors and seniors,” he states. “To win, you have to be able to retain students. To retain students, they have to be a good fit for Graceland, and they have to be great in the classrooms. So, yes, I can say my goal is to win games, but it’s a lot more than winning games. And the reality is, when you’re playing with juniors and seniors, you also get to see those students graduate.”
When asked about his ability to recruit and retain students to a program that has struggled, Robinson says he’s not worried. “There’s a lot of people who want to be a part of something special. And Graceland’s unique, so …” he trails off, but with a confidence he has come to be known for.
Robinson is hopeful that the relationships he has built at Graceland will translate to a campus that will back the football program right away in the fall. “This is ours,” he says of the program he now leads. “We talk about the power of together — this is ours together.” And he believes that mindset creates a sense of pride throughout the entire community.
“This is ours. We talk about the power of together — this is ours together.”
– NATE ROBINSON