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Beechwood’s Antonio Robinson Jr. signs with Wake Forest, big-time NKY rooting interest going forward

By Dan Weber
NKyTribune sports reporter

Just when Northern Kentucky needed him, just when the last two local Power Five football players were moving off the stage, along came Antonio Robinson Jr. to give us a big-time college football rooting interest going forward.

With Covington Catholic’s Michael Mayer leaving Notre Dame for the NFL after three years as the most productive – and to be honest – the best tight end in Irish football history and just as Ryle’s Tanner McKee was finishing up as the winningest quarterback in the University of Minnesota football history, Beechwood’s ARJ will be the guy next season after signing this week with Wake Forest in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Antonio Robinson Jr. and Antonio Sr. listen to Beechwood coach Noel Rash.

“A great day, a special day,” Beechwood Coach Noel Rash said, although he could have been talking about the day this summer when he was sitting on his front porch and got the call that Antonio Jr. was headed Ft. Mitchell way.

Beechwood would be able to accommodate the transfer student’s unique needs, which were essentially the ability to get his first semester credits at a solid football program, then head off to his chosen school in January as an early enrollee.

At the last minute, Antonio Jr. could have headed off to IMG Academy, the Florida prep school with nothing but top college prospects and a national schedule “but we didn’t want to change at the last minute,” said Antonio Sr., who speaks with voice of authority. He brought with him a Super Bowl ring from the Green Bay Packers and was coming to Northern Kentucky for a business opportunity and a chance to be an assistant coach at Beechwood.

The business opportunity didn’t work out, Antonio Sr. said, “but I think this may have worked out better. He’d have been recruited more at IMG but that might have changed where he ended up.”

And now that they look at it, small-school Wake Forest, his original early commitment school with its big-time academics and its impressive Power Five program, might be exactly the right place for the soft-spoken, explosive multi-position defender/returner/receiver.

Just as coming to Beechwood was “an awesome move,” ARJ says of the transition from Miami where his seven-on-seven summer team, the South Florida Express, won the national championship.

In his Wake Forest gear, Antonio Robinson Jr. says goodbye to Beechwood

“People fell in love with him,” Rash says of the way Antonio Jr. handled the switch from a big, fast world in South Florida to a smaller, slower one in Northern Kentucky.

Of that national championship team, how many are Power Five players, ARJ was asked? “All of them,” he said, “the whole team, all 17. They are all four- and five-star players.”

Which would be at least 10 more Power Five top prospects than in all of Kentucky. On just one team in South Florida.

But the transition to a different level of football and keeping focused wasn’t as tough as it might sound, ARJ said. “I’ve got my Pops coaching me up,” he said of the football and family part of it that had the 14-1 Tigers winning their third straight state title.

As for Fort Mitchell and the Beechwood school community, “Here it’s like everybody’s helping you,” ARJ said. “In Miami, it’s dog eat dog, every man for himself.”

At Wake Forest, head coach Dave Clawson, the ACC Coach of the Year in 2021, has told ARJ, who will major in kinesiology and physiology, “that I’ll be on the field right away.” Which is why he’ll be one of three early enrollees at the Winston-Salem, N.C., school and take part in spring practice.

Playing multiple positions and getting quicker and stronger – “but not bigger” – are the goals for the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder who’s best 40 time is 4.52. But he notes that all the top NFL corners are the explosive 5-foot-9 to 5-11 guys and that’s what he wants to be.

ARJ is also the perfect argument for Rash to be able to say that stats don’t matter. “I’m not a stat guy,” Rash says

Here’s why.

In his 13 games, teams threw the ball toward Antonio Jr. just five times resulting in two interceptions and three deflections. Which all worked out pretty well for his teammates – especially opposite corner Carson Craycraft, who managed eight interceptions.

“He used it,” ARJ said of his new teammate’s realization that teams were only going to throw the ball his way. “By the middle of the season, we knew they weren’t going to throw at him,” Rash said.

But they knew something else. “The kids would see the way he handled that,” Rash said of ARJ’s reaction to whatever came his way. “It’s beyond value” to the people coaching him and his teammates to watch a player who is being nationally recruited – Beechwood’s first ever – handle challenges.

Antonio Jr. is the second-ranked signee for a Wake Forest class of 20 commits that’s ranked No. 51 in the nation by 247 Sports.

“We’ll see you back here for graduation,” Rash told Antonio Jr. Yes, you will, Antonio nodded.

Beechwood is his school. And Fort Mitchell, even for just five months, his home.

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