Senior Spotlight: Penn-Trafford’s Robbins finds confidence during ‘miracle’ lacrosse career

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Thursday, May 28, 2020 | 1:45 PM


Editor’s note: Each day, Trib HSSN will spotlight WPIAL spring athletes whose senior years were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

John Robbins uses the word miracle to describe his lacrosse ventures.

He literally holds his varsity letter close to his heart.

“Four years ago, I was considered not good enough to play any sport at a competitive level,” Robbins said. “I got cut from the basketball team, and deservedly so, in retrospect. That moment I thought I’d never be able to play a sport at the varsity level and letter.”

But the just-graduated senior from Penn-Trafford turned a corner when he crossed paths with a life-changing sport. A slow-developing process became an obsession, and Robbins found his confidence — and identity.

“When I picked up lacrosse, I could barely pass. I could barely cradle. My shot form was wacky,” he said. “I played down my first year to get on my feet in the sport. It was tough, and I played through it. Then I worked and worked and worked because I fell in love with the sport. It helped me through very rough times in my life.

“The simple fact I managed to get to the level I am now is a miracle. The letter is just a physical embodiment of that miracle and hard work.”

Robbins went on to play for the varsity team but had his final season wiped away because of the covid-19 restrictions that led to the cancellation of PIAA spring sports.

Still, the aspiring sports broadcaster earned a spot on the Thiel lacrosse team and is anxious to get started when he arrives in Greenville.

What was it like when you found out lacrosse season was canceled?

I was absolutely devastated. I had worked so hard to get an opportunity after being behind multiple classes of great players. It also hurt that I would never be able to suit up in the green and gold again.

Have you stayed “lacrosse busy” during the pandemic?

I’ve shot and hit the wall every day or watched film to improve my lacrosse IQ. Along with a combination of running, biking and working outside with landscaping to act as a sort of lifting.

What advice would you give younger lacrosse players?

Hit the wall. Every day or as many days as you can. Doesn’t matter the weather or how you feel. Get comfortable with a stick in your hands. Players that are comfortable are the ones that you see get the game-winning goals or the ones who are always called on by coaches. You don’t have to be the strongest or the fastest in this game, but if you are the most comfortable with the ball in your stick, you can go a long way.

What piqued your interest in sports reporting/broadcasting?

The simple fact that I’d never work a day in my life. My love of sports is not hard to miss if you look at any of my social media. To cover sports on a day-to-day basis and have it be my career is a dream.

You were part of a strong senior class. Why was this group so good at sports?

We are all insanely competitive and have a chip on our shoulders. Even people who didn’t play sports are competitive in this class. We also want to show that Penn-Trafford is for real athletically.

Who was the best gym class athlete at P-T?

Boy, that’s a tough one. Michael Chronowski and Nick Graziano come to mind. Dodge ball and ultimate football, basically ultimate Frisbee with a football, were ones that (they) would dominate.

Ever catch a pass from (quarterback) Gabe Dunlap?

I actually have. We were playing flag football at Warrior Stadium one day a couple years back. He hit me on a go-route, if I remember correctly.

What is your favorite moment from high school lacrosse?

I have two. The first is the comeback against Plum last year. We scored six straight goals in the final three or four minutes of regulation, then we won the game in overtime. The second is my first career goal my freshman year against Indiana.

Best sports movie?

“Hoosiers.” It’s my favorite overall movie. Measuring the baskets, the one step at a time speech, and the “welcome to Indiana basketball” scenes are iconic.

How will the Steelers do this season — if there is a season?

If the defense and Big Ben hold up, we could be looking at 13-3 and possibly an AFC North title. This could be the last year Ben can make a deep playoff run. So it’s all or nothing now, and I think they know that.

Have you ever interviewed anyone famous?

The most famous person I’ve interviewed is (Penn-Trafford football) coach (John) Ruane. I’ve interviewed my friends who are athletes and those types of people. It’s interesting how much you can learn from people who aren’t the most famous. They might not get the most eyeballs, but they have some of the most interesting answers.

Who is the most influential person in your life?

My parents, for sure. There’s a lot of voices and opinions in my life, but I always have the foundation of my parents who point me in the right direction and always support me no matter what I do.

Any interesting hobbies?

Stringing lacrosse sticks is a good one. In lacrosse, no two sticks are alike. I like to string my own sticks because it gives me an understanding of how the pocket works. I feel like if I build that connection with my stick I can perform better because I have that confidence it will work every time.

Any good stories to share about your fondness for the broadcasting business?

The first time I went to Waynesburg University sports broadcasting camp. I went into that camp and learned so much and met so many people that I still call family today. Along with the lessons I learned from Lanny Frattare, the Steigerwald brothers, Bill Hillgrove and many others are ones I’ll take into my career.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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