Senior defensive backs brought physicality to Baldwin football

Sunday, November 22, 2020 | 11:01 AM

Two undeniable stalwarts on the Baldwin football team this season were senior standouts Connor Lavelle and C.J. Robbins.

Both were four-year starters and team leaders for the Fighting Highlanders, who ended up 2-3.

Lavelle, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound wide receiver/defensive back, ranked among the WPIAL’s leading receivers.

A Lehigh recruit, he finished with 28 catches for 334 yards and four scores in five games. He also led the team in scoring, kickoff and punt returns, and defensively, shared the team lead in tackles.

Lavelle reeled in eight receptions for 108 yards against Hollidaysburg, seven for 67 against Seneca Valley and six for 93 against Norwin. He scored in all three games.

“I thought we made a lot of progress as a team throughout the year,” Lavelle said. “We got hit with a lot of adversity and never backed down to any of it. I feel like the future of Baldwin football is really bright. I’ll always be proud to say I played football for Baldwin and would love to thank the fans and the Baldwin community for the endless support.”

Over the past three seasons, Lavelle, also a varsity starter in basketball since his freshman year, totaled 60 receptions for 713 yards and six touchdowns.

On defense, he racked up 152 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, one interception and five fumble recoveries, including a 30-yard TD return.

He was recruited to play safety by Lehigh, a member of the Patriot League. He received more than a dozen Division I offers, including Dartmouth, Yale and Louisiana-Monroe.

“I always love getting the ball and scoring, but defense has my heart,” said Lavelle, who plans to add baseball to his athletic schedule in the spring. “I feel like I have more potential on defense, and I just love hitting people.”

Despite the fact the Fighting Highlanders did not make the WPIAL playoffs in 2020, Lavelle relishes a treasured memory from the season.

One of his teammates on defense was his younger brother Evan, a junior tight end/outside linebacker.

“It was definitely a really cool experience,” said the elder Lavelle. “Not many people can say they played alongside of their brother.”

Connor Lavelle manned a linebacker position as a junior and has been timed at 4.56 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He also played alongside Robbins, a 6-foot, 185-pound wide receiver/defensive back, throughout his career.

Robbins racked up eight interceptions over the past three seasons, including six (and three scores) as a sophomore in 2018. He ranked among the team leaders in several other defensive categories.

“This year, we all matured a lot and learned that we have to play as a team,” Robbins said. “We had one goal, but because of covid, we couldn’t achieve that goal to the fullest extent.”

Robbins runs a 4.5 in the 40. He was Baldwin’s second-leading receiver this year with nine catches for 243 yards, averaging a lofty 27 yards per reception.

Lavelle and Robbins, who plans to continue his career in college, ranked one-two in all-purpose yardage.

“My career at Baldwin was fun,” he said. “My freshman year, I played special teams and started two games. I was nervous because I was only 14, but I had to do what I had to do. (Ex-Baldwin) head coach (Loran) Cooley always preached, ‘Next man up.’ My sophomore year was my favorite year. I finished with six interceptions and three pick-sixes.”

Robbins has been recruited by the likes of Pitt, Albany and St. Francis thus far.

“I’m trying to get more looks,” he said. “I am working extremely hard with my coaches to get an opportunity. I do plan on going to college, getting my degree and continuing my athletic career.”

Wherever he lands, Robbins, who will be a fourth-year member of Baldwin’s track and field program in the spring, most likely will occupy a position on the defensive side of the ball, specifically in the secondary.

“I love defense more than offense,” Robbins said. “I love to be able to hit people and not be hit. But when I’m needed on offense for a play to be made, I’ve always stepped up and helped my team get the work done.”

Dorien Ford, a 6-4, 300-pound senior lineman and Pitt recruit, also was a four-year starter at Baldwin.

The nationally recruited Ford led the Baldwin defense in sacks and blocked a kick this season.

Ford was ranked as the No. 10 senior in the state by and No. 25 defensive tackle in the country. Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia were among numerous schools that offered scholarships.

The last time a Baldwin player was as highly recruited as Ford was in 2006 when Jason Pinkston played at Pitt before embarking on a three-year NFL career with Cleveland.

Ford, Robbins and Lavelle were all-conference selections in 2019.


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