"Blessing in Disguise:" Tavius Robinson's Journey from Canadian Football to Ole Miss

Nate Gabler

Seventeen-year-old Tavius Robinson didn't even consider playing NCAA football. Despite growing up in Ontario, Canada, he very well may have been able to if he tried. 

Now four years later, he's traveling to the Deep South for the first time, moving to Mississippi to join the Ole Miss Rebels. 

It's been a long road to Oxford for the newest 6-foot-8 Rebel defender, Tavius Robinson. 

Canadian football is just different.

Robinson laughs: his native Canada, he admits, is really a hockey country. Inside my head, I laugh when he says he started playing football at an early age. Why? Because he says he started playing at 10 years old. In the states, Pop Warner leagues start as early as 5 years old. It's just different.

"Canada is definitely a hockey country, but football is still pretty big here in my opinion," Robinson says over a Skype call. "The U Sports league is still a pretty big league; the CFL is pretty competitive. There’s still some die hard football fans here.”

Courtesy of Guelph Athletics
Michael P. Hall, Guelph Athletics Courtesy of Guelph Athletics

Now, Robinson is certainly biased when he says football is big. Why? He's grown up around it his entire life.

Robinson's uncle, Junior Robinson, was selected in the second round of the 1983 Canadian Football League draft. He would go on to play 10 years in the CFL as a defensive back. Robinson's dad also played high school football. The Robinson household is a football household, even in Ottawa. 

Tavius Robinson grown up around it grew up in Guelph, a city of about 130,000 in southwestern Ontario. He would go on to follow in his uncle's footsteps, playing collegiately at the University of Guelph in his hometown, part of the U Sports league (essentially the Canadian NCAA). 

But it's not like he wasn't NCAA talent – he just never even tried. 

Now, looking back, he's honestly not sure he'd ever get the chance at NCAA football without the COVID-19 outbreak. 

The U Sports football season was cancelled for good on June 8. Robinson and his college coaches kind of saw it coming a little before then. He had started gathering a highlight reel and cold-emailing FBS coaches, the first step in a long process that lasted the spring of getting his name out there.

“Looking at it now, it’s not that I regret it, going to Guelph. My experience at Guelph has been great. But I definitely could have done it back then," Robinson said. "All of the coronavirus stuff is kind of a blessing in disguise. Without it, it’s hard to say. I probably would have had to sit out a season or I just wouldn't have done it.”

See the video immediately above for Robinson's highlight reel.

As it turns out, there's a bunch of good reasons that a lot of FBS coaches were interested in a Canadian kid that none of them even knew existed four months ago. 

Robinson stands 6-8, towering over a Canadian offensive lineman and honestly much taller than the standard SEC defensive end. His college coaches say he runs a 4.60 40-yard dash, despite his 6-8, 240-pound frame. He lists a 35-inch vertical jump.

Simply put, Robinson might be a raw prospect at 21 years old, but the kid is an athletic freak. 

"He's a special player for sure, there's no question. The physical tools that he's been blessed with speak for themselves," said Brian Cluff, Robinson's defensive line coach at Guelph. "A player of Tavius' caliber and ability, we don't see it. He's the first player that I've seen over the years with that capabilities."

Cluff actually played with Junior Robinson while both were at Guelph in the early 80s.

That connection stemmed, Junior Robinson and Cluff, but the Guelph defensive line coach never really knew what he had coming until he got to see Tavius live as a high schooler. 

He knew from that point that they were on to something. 

"I saw him in grade nine and I knew then he was such a special looking athlete," Cluff said. "He just has so much potential and I don't think he's even scratching the surface of his ceiling. With the experience he's going to get down at Ole Miss, I think he's going to develop tremendously."

Now at Ole Miss, Robinson will have the opportunity to play from the start due to an eligibility waiver granted because of the shutdown of U Sports for the 2020 season. 

For Robinson, he jokes, it's a blessing but he totally doesn't know what he's exactly getting into. When asked if he's ever been to the South, he says he's been to Florida on vacation a few times. Yes, because Florida and Mississippi are totally the same... not really – ask Lane Kiffin.

He's still in Canada for now, filling out some paperwork for eligibility and academics, but plans to be on campus and settled into Oxford by the time voluntary workouts transition to real football practices in mid-July. 

For the Rebels, Robinson will line up on the edge. He'll be given the opportunity, with his size and athleticism, to both rush the passer and drop into coverage. 

However, there's still a lot he needs to work on. 

Robinson is clearly raw, and his frame may have some issues holding up in the SEC right away. For now, he has just about 240 pounds on that 6-8 frame. Adding some weight will be step one when he arrives on the Ole Miss campus. 

That said, Robinson is getting the opportunity to live out a dream. He's also putting himself in a much better position to live out his next dream: to make the NFL.

If you want to know who he grew up watching, it wasn't Ole Miss. It was actually Alabama and LSU, the schools he'll get to face every year in the SEC West. 

“It’s my dreams coming true. I get to compete with the best and I think that will turn me into the best player possible," Robinson said.

For a longer snapshot of our interview with Robinson, see the video at the top of this story.  

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