ASU football's Merlin Robertson cherishing last few games as a Sun Devil
Merlin Robertson leaned on Darien Butler when he came into the Arizona State football fold in 2018. Both were true freshmen and worked their way into the starting lineup as rookies alongside each other in the linebacking unit. Former coach Herm Edwards even dubbed them Batman and Robin for the way they worked together.
Butler is now with the NFL's Las Vegas Raiders, making the organization's roster after signing as an undrafted free agent.
Robertson is hoping for an NFL future too and he has been picking Butler's brain as to what to expect. The Raiders' bye week was the same as ASU's so Butler returned and spent some time with his former teammate in Tempe.
"He's my cheat sheet now," Robertson laughed while meeting with the media earlier this week. "I tell him, 'Tell me everything you know.' We just chopped it up and he told me what to look forward to, what I can improve on, stuff like that. What the process will be like when it comes time.
While the goal of playing professional football is looming, Robertson's focus for the moment is finishing his last college season on a winning note. The Sun Devils (3-7, 2-5) have two games left, the first coming at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday with No. 25 Oregon State (7-3, 4-3) providing the opposition.
It will be the last home game for Robertson, as well as 16 other Sun Devils including Kyle Soelle, who is alongside Robertson in the same role previously filled by Butler.
"It hasn't really hit me yet. I have been thinking about it though. Just wondering how I'm going to feel at that moment when it comes," Robertson said.
The 6-foot-3, 235-pounder has played in 51 games, starting 47. If he stays away from injury, he'll have played in 53 games, tying Chase Lucas for the most in school history. He would be at 49 games started which ties him with Lucas, but is one fewer than Dexter Davis whose 50 starts are a Sun Devil best.
Robertson, a Southern California native, says he has enjoyed his collegiate career and is thankful for the opportunities the school and the coaching staff have provided. Asked what he has learned the most about himself, Robertson's response was reflective of a player who has grown on and off the playing field, aided by the maturation that comes with having two young boys.
"One thing I've learned about myself is, I do have some patience," he said. "I learned a lot, especially with these coaches. They helped me improve so much, not only as a player but as a father. Just giving us life lessons throughout the game of football to help prepare us for the next level and the real world when it's over. I'm thankful for this university, especially these coaches, not giving up on me. This team, it all means a lot."
Robertson burst onto the scene with quite a bit of fanfare. He was named Defensive Freshman Player of the Year in the Pac-12. His play plateaued for a couple of years, and he failed to match the accolades he notched as a rookie.
The reasons for that were many. He admittedly didn't pay as close attention to the off-season regiment as he should have. He had two young children to provide for and he also had to deal with the unexpected death of his father three years ago, just days after attending an ASU spring practice. COVID stoppages complicated matters.
He took all that to heart and came into this season in the best physical shape of his career, knowing it was his last chance to state his case for a draft selection to potential NFL suitors.
Asked earlier this fall how he trimmed down and transformed his body he said, "I stopped eating my kids' snacks."
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With two games left, Robertson has totaled 75 tackles, two fewer than his one-year best of 77 his freshman season. He's tallied 312 tackles, 19.5 of those for a loss, with six interceptions, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in his career.
Asked which games are his most memorable in an ASU uniform, he singled out the 70-7 win over rival Arizona in the 2020 Territorial Cup game as well as the 16-13 win over then No. 15 Michigan State in Tempe his freshman year, the latter because it came on his father's birthday.
While the team hasn't had the success all had hoped, Robertson said football is reflective of life, you can't give up when things aren't going your way.
"What are you going to do these last two, just fold up or are you going to step up and fight these last two," he said. "Which one you going to do? I'm going to step up and fight, especially with my team and my coaches and the way they're coaching us. They're very resilient. They're on us every day, even if we are losing. They still believe in us, still give us that good energy. And we need that. So it's on us as the older guys to continue that, take it to the younger guys so hopefully when they're in the face of adversity in the next year, they know how to take it on."
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Interim coach Shaun Aguano is going to miss Robertson, as well as Soelle, and praises what he has seen from the duo.
“To see their resiliency and to see their care and they talk about being Sun Devils for life, that means a lot. I'm going to miss them because I've been with them for four years now and seen their transformation in maturity both on and off the field. Just watching them go through the adversity they have been going through, there's no doubt that they're going to be successful in their lives. And I'm happy to see grown men, our gratification for coaching is seeing those guys become great men later on and great fathers. I've seen Merlin because he's a father right now, and him being around his kids is just more gratifying to me than the wins and losses, it's just them being good men.”
Reach the reporter at Michelle.Gardner@gannett.com or 602 444-4783. Follow her on Twitter @MGardnerSports.