How Lincoln Riley can help Duce Robinson thrive at USC
The tight end recruit and baseball standout should benefit from Riley’s experience with two-sport star Kyler Murray
Adam Grosbard (OC Register) — As freshman Duce Robinson, the nation’s top tight end who committed to USC on Thursday, starts to get settled in with the football team this summer, another Trojans squad awaits.
In addition to his overpowering tight end play, Robinson is a dangerous slugger in baseball with the athleticism to play the outfield. And there is a strong chance Robinson will not only be selected in the MLB draft, but taken high enough to consider signing an MLB contract.
Even if that dream of Robinson’s is achieved this summer, the current plan is for freshman to still play football at USC, head coach Lincoln Riley said Saturday.
“There’s two kind of knowns right now. One, he’s going to play football at USC,” Riley said. “Two, baseball is going to be a big part of his future, which is obviously really exciting. There’s some comfort level in that we’ve been able to do it with a couple of guys.”
One of those guys was Kyler Murray, who was a Heisman-winning quarterback and baseball star during Riley’s Oklahoma tenure. He was taken ninth overall by the Oakland Athletics in the 2018 MLB draft, won the Heisman, then went first overall to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL draft.
Murray had his choice of sports and picked football. Riley hopes Robinson will have the same options when his time at USC comes to an end. His experience with Murray was a big selling point to Robinson.
“You can be a head coach of a Division I football program that allows a player to go try to play another sport. That’s not the deal,” Riley said. “It’s, can you help facilitate and put together a plan that helps them potentially excel at both? And there’s a lot to that, more than I ever realized.”
When Murray ended his freshman season, Riley felt like the situation had been mishandled. Murray was the backup quarterback and posted a .122 batting average on the diamond.
It wasn’t until the year was over and Riley spoke with Murray that he realized how much had been put on the freshman’s plate.
“You’re trying to train for two different sports, but you also have to recover, you also have to put in the mental training, oh by the way, they’re going to school, there’s that,” Riley explained. “You’ve got communication between two sets of strength coaches, two sets of academic coordinators, two sets of operations, two head coaches, two different position coaches.”
Riley and the other coaches at Oklahoma refined the lines of communication and made scheduling adjustments. And the benefits were immediately clear. Murray was still behind Baker Mayfield on the Sooners’ QB depth chart, but he hit .296 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs as a sophomore.
Riley hopes to use that experience to shape Robinson’s college experience. If Robinson does not sign with an MLB team this summer, he will likely play baseball with USC. Riley has already talked with head coach Andy Stankiewicz about this possibility.
Lincoln Riley, seen coaching against Notre Dame on Nov. 26, 2022, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, is no stranger to coaching two-sport athletes. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)
“Duce has big goals in both sports,” Riley said. “I feel like we have a tremendous plan ready to put out there and then it’s going to be up to Duce to do the work from there.”