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By LARRY VAUGHT
As a youngster growing up in Alcoa, Tenn., it was only natural that Tyler Robinson was a Tennessee football fan before he became a Kentucky football player.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I was a Tennessee fan ever since I was a little kid. I had pictures, posters on the wall, everything,Ã¢â‚¬Â Robinson said.
Now a backup tight end at Kentucky, Robinson said heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s happy to be north of the border.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“My dream was just to be playing college, and I am happy where I am at and it is going to be something to go back and play there. But when I was a kid, of course I wanted to play for the Vols. Everybody did. But I am very happy here now,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
Robinson will be back in Tennessee on Saturday when Kentucky tries to end a 25-game losing streak to the Volunteers in the final regular-season game for both teams.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is going to be awesome. I am so excited. Everybody has told me they are going to go. There are probably going to be at least 100 or 200 people who told me they are going to be there,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Robinson, who originally thought he would be redshirted this year. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Beating Tennessee would be crazy and the best feeling ever for me.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Remember, Robinson was not offered a scholarship by Tennessee because the Vols felt he would have to play center, not tight end. Instead, he proved them wrong much like former Alcoa teammate Randall Cobb has. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why he thinks his hometown will be Kentucky proud for this game.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think they are going to be pro-Kentucky because they have two of their boys here. There is lot of Kentucky around the halls at Alcoa,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
What makes his presence and contributions at Kentucky even a bit more ironic is that his mother Ã¢â‚¬â€ and other relatives Ã¢â‚¬â€ work at Tennessee.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“My mother, Debbie, works for parking services at UT,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s how he managed to watch numerous Tennessee games from the same tunnel the players use to enter the playing field.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I have worked for the university for 23 years,Ã¢â‚¬Â Debbie Robinson said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t wait for the game. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be very special. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really going to be great to see him play there and see him do well. He has been doing great and loves Kentucky.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We used to always go in the tunnel and watch the games. We did not go on the field, but we were right in the tunnel where the players would come out. Tyler was actually a UT fan for many, many years.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He always thought he wanted to go to UT, but it did not work out that way. Honestly, I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think he could be in a better place now. Everything has worked out for a reason and was meant to be.Ã¢â‚¬Â
She estimates her son will have 50 family members at the game, and she has already bought 15 tickets herself.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am sure with friends and folks from the community, there will be a couple hundred there,Ã¢â‚¬Â she said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be amazing.Ã¢â‚¬Â
What might be more amazing is the relationship Debbie Robinson has with co-workers in spite of her Kentucky ties.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I am sure she hears some stuff, but she can dish it right back. She is good at that stuff,Ã¢â‚¬Â Tyler Robinson laughed and said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“She will be wearing blue to work every day game week, and she would probably me more excited than me if we won.Ã¢â‚¬Â
His mother says she has worn Ã¢â‚¬Å“Kentucky gearÃ¢â‚¬Â several times to work.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We can wear football stuff on Fridays. I have worn blue several times, and a couple of times I have worn Kentucky stuff,Ã¢â‚¬Â Debbie Robinson said.
She has made a special T-shirt for this game. The white T-shirt has Ã¢â‚¬Å“TylerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s MomÃ¢â‚¬Â in blue on the front and Ã¢â‚¬Å“Kentucky 89 T-RobÃ¢â‚¬Â (her sonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nickname) on the back.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“My co-workers are great. Even thought most are UT fans, they do follow Kentucky, and they all tell me they are Kentucky fans except for the week they play Tennessee. Quite a few of them have made special shirts that have Tennessee in orange on the front and the back says Kentucky Wildcats,Ã¢â‚¬Â Debbie Robinson said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“My niece also works at UT. She has a shirt that says Ã¢â‚¬ËœTennessee VolunteersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ on the front and the back says Ã¢â‚¬ËœI love the Kentucky Wildcats.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Tyler has aunts, uncles working at UT. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s going to be crazy.Ã¢â‚¬Â
It would be especially crazy if this was the Kentucky team to finally beat Tennessee again and had two players Ã¢â‚¬â€ Cobb and Robinson Ã¢â‚¬â€ who grew up only a few miles from the stadium.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I guess I was part of that talk about always beating Kentucky when I was little. I grew up 20 minutes from the place. My mom works there. I was always like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWe are going to beat them,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ but that was a long time ago,Ã¢â‚¬Â Tyler Robinson said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Even when I got to Kentucky this year, I didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think I would get to play right away. Even most people back home didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think I would. But if we could win this game, it would be so, so special.Ã¢â‚¬Â
His mother understands. After all, she has UK memorabilia in her office. Co-workers, family and friends have the Tennessee-Kentucky shirts.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“My co-workers have been really, really good, and I have several friends in the athletics department that tell me they follow Tyler. Everybody is still a Volunteer fan, but they are still Tyler fans,Ã¢â‚¬Â Debbie Robinson said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“UK gets a lot of recognition because of Tyler and Randall playing there. It has been so neat seeing die-hard Tennessee fans saying they will be yelling for Tyler. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just one of those things you never dreamed might happen, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s really neat to be part of it, and Tyler is so, so happy.Ã¢â‚¬Â