BUCKHANNON -- The torch has just been passed, and already Jamaal Robinson burns brightly.
West Virginia Wesleyan's new tailback, a transfer from San Joaquin Delta Junior College in California, went through his first scrimmage as a Bobcat on Friday. He's not Duriel Cobb, who graduated last year, but neither he nor his coaches expect a repeat performance.
"Duriel's numbers were a big part of the success (last year), but I'm just here like the rest of the guys plugging away trying to get the best 11," Robinson said.
Cobb broke the Bobcat rushing record last year with 1,440 yards and 13 touchdowns and averaged 130.9 yards a game, leading the team to a West Virginia Conference title. In the heavy ground game coach Bill Struble uses, Robinson shouldn't be looked at as Cobb's replacement. But last year has been referenced in practice.
"When Jamaal signed here, he knew the situation," Struble said. "We have a lot of returning starters, but the one guy that's not back is the tailback. A couple of times, I've told him, 'Hey, it's time to break the school record again this year,' just as a motivator. But you want to motivate without putting an unnecessary burden of pressure on a player that forces him not to perform up to his capabilities."
Robinson started Friday's scrimmage by getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage on the opening play, perhaps a rude welcome to West Virginia Wesleyan football. But he bounced right back with a 14-yard run and the first down.
"The one thing that I liked about him on film was that he always got north and south with the football," Struble said. "He knew when to get that extra 2 or 3 yards instead of being pinned in and trying to dance around and getting tackled right at the point he's dancing."
Struble and Robinson's junior college coach met at a coaching convention in Louisiana last year and exchanged some tapes. Struble had just one scholarship to give out last year, and Robinson took it on a trip across the country.
After he arrived in Buckhannon, Struble discovered things he couldn't by watching film. Robinson is faster than Cobb and has an elusiveness which likely will create problems for defenses around the WVC.
"I can put a move on if I need to," Robinson said. "I'm an efficient runner. I really don't do any more than what needs to be done."
Buckhannon-Upshur product Sloan Baisden also went through his first scrimmage as a Bobcat by backing up Robinson. Baisden was an invited walkon at Marshall but left after a week.
"It just wasn't working for me down there," Baisden said. "The environment wasn't right for me."
He was listed as a rover on the Thundering Herd's roster and figured to wait about three years before seeing any significant playing time. Gladstone Coke, a senior, is the projected starter at rover for Marshall, but between Coke and Baisden on the depth chart are Chris Royal, Dennis Thornton, Fernando Durden and Peyton Harris -- three sophomores and a redshirt freshman.
Struble has all but ruled out redshirting Baisden this year. He'll switch from defense to offense and Division I-A to Division II -- but it won't be a problem after starring in several roles with the Buccaneers a year ago.
"It's just learning the offense, which here really isn't that difficult," Baisden said. "Everybody knows what to do and what to expect, so it's just like playing with somebody who's at your level."
Baisden was the most productive during the first half of Friday's scrimmage. Quarterbacks Chris Cormier and Marc Kimes struggled early -- Cormier's first pass was intercepted by defensive end Jeremy Lynch and Kimes completed just 2 of 6 passes for 14 yards during his first series. Both the first- and second-team offenses were kept off the scoreboard during the first four series of plays.
Like Robinson, Baisden was also stuffed on his first carry, for a loss of 3 yards. But he lined up as a flanker on several plays during the next drive and caught a bail-out screen pass for a 16-yard pickup. He also made a diving catch for a 17-yard gain later in the scrimmage.
"He picked up our system quite easily," Struble said.
The Bobcats scrimmage again on Aug. 29. Their season opens with a 1 p.m. home game on Sept. 6 against Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foe Mercyhurst (Pa.).
Sports writer Rob Peirce can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.