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Faith, Charleston memories guide Vikings LB Robinson

For most, there's one way on and one way off Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina.

A single bridge connects the patch (about 10 miles long and 6 miles wide at its greatest points) with Johns Island. Wadmalaw is surrounded by creeks and a river, sitting between the mainland and the Atlantic Ocean as part of a chain of islands south of Charleston. About 2,600 live there without stop lights, gas stations or grocery stores.

"It's really quiet, not a big area at all," Edmond Robinson said. "What I can say about it is everyone in the community loves each other and you're very tightly knit, so when all the good news was happening for me, everyone was right there to celebrate and tell me how I'm making the community proud because it's been such a long time since someone out of there has done something of this magnitude. It was a great day, really exciting (when I was drafted).

The good news Robinson is referring to is when he was drafted by the Vikings with the 232nd overall pick in the seventh round of the 2015 NFL Draft. As he celebrated with family and friends, the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Robinson thought of the opportunity to play for linebackers coach Adam Zimmer and earn a job in the NFL.

"He came to the pro day, put me through a lot of tough drills but it was definitely worth it, and on draft day when I got that call from the Vikings, he's the first person I thought about," Robinson said. "The day before the pro day we actually sat and talked and went over plays and he was seeing how my football IQ was. It was a connection built from the start, and I was excited to get the opportunity here."

High school to D2 to NFL Draft

James Waring became Robinson's coach going into the player's senior season at St. John's High School. Waring had coached against Robinson for three seasons and believed he could play at the Division I level. Waring lined Robinson up virtually anywhere on the field as he looked everywhere for a collegiate opportunity late in the recruiting game.

"Edmond played inside linebacker, outside linebacker, defensive end and free safety," Waring said. "Offensively, he was a wide receiver and running back, believe it or not, he was a big tailback, and all the special teams."

Robinson received an invite to the NFL Combine, one of two Division II players invited, where he impressed in multiple timing and testing drills. He became the first player drafted out of Newberry College since Greg Hartle in 1974.

"I think Edmond has proven, if anything, if you're out there and can play, the NFL will find you," Waring said. "I was happier for Edmond than anything else because I know the hard work he's put in and this is something he's been looking forward to. This is something that the community, everybody is behind him and wanting him to succeed, his teammates. It was a proud day for everybody. He deserved it."

Seventh rounders, however, are not guaranteed roster spots.

With a dream this close to reality, however, Robinson planned to capitalize on the opportunity the same way he did once he got to Newberry. He arrived in Minnesota this spring and began keeping checklists of goals as he advanced through the offseason workout program.

"The first thing that came to my mind is that I'm going to have to show those guys that I belong and that's including the coaches, the GM and the owner, to show I was worth a draft pick, but also that I'm going to come here and give my all and whatever they need me to do, I can handle the job at-task," Robinson said.

Tragedy strikes home

Robinson returned to his hotel room near Winter Park on June 17 after a "great day at practice." It was the eve of the final day of the Vikings mandatory minicamp. He was grateful to make it through camp without injury, but hurt was on its way.

He scrolled through Facebook on a tablet computer and saw messages like, "Pray for Charleston, South Carolina," and "Pray for the Emanuel Church family."

"I saw there was a terrible shooting that happened down there," Robinson recalled. "They didn't list any names, but said there were a number of people killed and the pastor was shot."

Fear took hold immediately because Robinson's mother, Rev. Annabelle Robinson, is pastor at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church across the Ashley River, about 5 miles west of the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in downtown Charleston.

"I'm thinking my mom has been shot or something happened to her," Robinson said. "I called her but didn't get an answer, so I just thought of having a lot of things going through my mind. I'm up here at camp and can't do anything about it, no one is answering my phone calls."

When he learned the tragedy occurred downtown, at the church known as "Mother Emanuel" that opened in 1816, there was a moment of relief for his mother that was then overcome by grief for the nine victims who lost their lives and their families.

"It was definitely a difficult process," Robinson said. "I actually attended that church a few Sundays when (my mom) started preaching, and while she was interning, we went to that church a few times.

"It was definitely difficult, and she was just telling me to stay focused on what's in front of me and that was definitely football," Robinson continued, "but in the back of my mind, I was thinking about the families that lost their loved ones. There were a lot of children that lost their loved ones. Your heart automatically goes out to little kids that have to worry about not having your mom or grandparents or father."

Waring knew one of the victims, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, who sang at funerals of two of Waring's family members. Another close friend of Waring's would have been at the Bible study that night if not for needing to be at home during a repair of her air conditioning.

More than two months have passed, but Robison said the tragedy remains in his thoughts. He had seen Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine, before Robinson traveled to Minnesota.

"He had heard the great news of me being drafted and just wanted to tell me congratulations, but it doesn't stop there," Robinson recalled. "He just wanted me to know that he was going to continue to have me in his prayers, that he knew everything was going to work out. That's the last thing I heard from him."

Robinson said the shooting "doesn't characterize Charleston," a home he knows as "a very loving place, heartwarming."

He's leaned on his faith and has forgiveness for the suspect, who is facing nine state charges of murder, as well as federal charges.

"My mom always taught me to forgive. I didn't know the young man at all, but I do forgive him," Robinson said. "You just have to forgive and let the higher power deal with it and go on with your life and look forward to better days."

Growth on the field

The 23-year-old has seen an increase in defensive snaps in each of the three preseason games. He has a pair of tackles in each of the past two, including a smothering stop of Trent Richardson for a loss of 5 against Oakland.

"He keeps getting better every day," Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. "He's a guy that really played a completely different position in college and so I think he is improving. He's got the size and the speed and the things we like. Maybe similar to [Gerald] Hodges when Hodges came out of college. I wasn't with him when he got here, but he played a very similar position back in college, so it takes a little while."

Faith has remained important to Robinson throughout the process.

"I pray before every practice, just to keep me healthy and strengthen my mind because throughout this entire process, it's more of a mental game than physical," Robinson said. "I just ask him to help with my plays and that I remember what I'm doing with my assignments so I can go throughout the day, whether it's mental reps or actual reps, to help slow it down in my mind so I can process everything and play the best I can play."

"Edmond has an understanding way beyond someone his age," Waring said. "I would go to Edmond for advice. How ironic is that?"

Waring, 56, coached 27 seasons before retiring last year. He's returned as an assistant coach at West Ashley, about 10 miles from St. John's, where he coached Robinson. Although they were just together for a year, it left an impact on the coach that he'll try to pass along to other young players.

"I missed being around the Edmonds," Waring said. "I told Edmond his story is a story I can tell and inspire that one young man who thinks, 'maybe things aren't going my way, maybe I'm not exposed like I should be.' Edmond's story is not a story of maybes. His story is, 'Let's make it happen.' "

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