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Rookie Camp Brought Familiar Face Back to Redskins Park

by David Elfin
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Andrew Robiskie. (Credit: Larry Dean/Western Illinois Visual Production Center)

Andrew Robiskie. (Credit: Larry Dean/Western Illinois Visual Production Center)

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For those of us who followed the late 1990s Redskins, it’s bad enough that Norv Turner’s son, Scott, is in his third year as an assistant with Carolina. The fact that Darrell Green’s son, Jared, is now in Dallas after spending last year on the Panthers’ practice squad, could make some Washingtonians weep.

But the march of time really hit home this past weekend in the person of the long-shot center who was wearing No. 69 during rookie minicamp at Redskins Park.

Andrew Robiskie wasn’t even 5 years old when his father, Terry, was hired by rookie coach Turner to coach the Redskins’ receivers in 1994. But he was pushing 12 when his father was dismissed after his seven seasons in Washington ended with a three-game stint as Turner’s interim successor that concluded the Super Bowl or bust 2000 season.

In between young Andrew raced around the hallways in Ashburn with his brother Brian, now a receiver with Detroit after two-plus years with Cleveland and less than one with Jacksonville. Andrew remembers being a ballboy at training camp in Frostburg, Md., where he was harassed by resident bully Michael Westbrook and wrapped in athletic tape and tossed in a laundry hamper, perhaps by Big Daddy Wilkinson.

Good times, no?

“It has a surreal feeling,” Andrew said before introducing himself for the first time as an adult to Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who fired his dad 13 years ago. “I used to sled down that hill over there.”

The younger Robiskie’s ties to the current regime at Redskins Park go back before he was born. In 1988, the Raiders, then in their Los Angeles hiatus from Oakland, hired a brash 35-year-old assistant from AFC West rival named Mike Shanahan as their coach. The new man didn’t fully clean house. He kept Robiskie on staff, moving him from running the special teams to tight ends coach. Shanahan got the axe in October 1989 when Andrew was only 5 months old, but he and Robiskie have remained in the fairly small fraternity of NFL head coaches ever since.

Robiskie, Atlanta’s receivers coach for the last seven years, suggested to his younger son that Washington was the right place to try to latch onto a job because he believed that the 6-foot-2, 300-pound center would thrive in Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme that requires agility as much as it does brute strength.

“It was obviously my decision, but [my father] said, ‘The way you play center, I think you’re a real good fit for the Redskins,’” said Andrew, who started the last 25 games for Western Illinois and is on the verge of a communications degree with a minor in business management. “I listen to my father with all the years he’s coached. I know it’s a tough business, but I’m going to be optimistic.”

Shanahan gave a special welcome to the 24-year-old center.

“I talked to him for about 10-15 minutes and shared some stories about me and Terry when I first got the Raider job,” Shanahan said. “A class young man, you can see that he handles himself just like Terry. Very smart … he did a heck of a job in our camp.”

As one of 48 tryout players trying to win a spot on the training camp roster of the defending NFC East champions, Robiskie faced nearly insurmountable odds, especially since he was less than a month removed from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. And whatever tiny hope Robiskie had of going to Richmond in July ended Tuesday when the Redskins signed another center, Kevin Matthews, who spent the past three seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

But for three happy days, he got to live the dream he had when he was a 10-year-old chasing down footballs thrown by Brad Johnson or punted by Matt Turk in the hills of Western Maryland.

“I tell them to believe in themselves,” said Shanahan, whose playing days ended at Eastern Illinois after a jarring hit during practice ruptured a kidney and nearly caused his death. “If they believe in themselves, the opportunity will come sometime, if not from us, from another team. There’s a number of teams next week working a lot of these guys out, so they’ll have some opportunities … to show people what they can do. I just told them to believe in their dreams and just don’t let people tell you [that] you can’t do something.”

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin

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