Rob Robinson took over as Northeastern State’s head coach with quite the offensive background. He was Washburn’s offensive coordinator for four seasons prior to taking over the RiverHawks.
He had his offense executing the way he wanted heading into NSU’s spring game. Then that high level of offensive efficiency disappeared in front of a small smattering of fans at Doc Wadley Stadium on Saturday.
“Little frustrating,” Robinson said. “...We had a very good practice Thursday on offensive side, and I was looking for them to come out and expand on that and they went backwards. I don’t know if it was the people in the stands or there were some girls up there that were catching their eye — or what was going on.”
The RiverHawks started off without any offensive success. Then, after shifting to red zone offense, the RiverHawks posted three touchdowns — each one by a different quarterback (Johnny Deaton, Thor Long, Kevin Pantastico).
“I was impressed with how the offense got beat and got beat but then kind of turned it on once we got in the red zone,” Robinson said. “So they showed some maturity in not getting down on themselves.”
The final touchdown of the spring showcase — which was no different from any other practice, with NSU dividing strictly into offenses and defenses — was scored by former Tahlequah standout Mason McMillan. The 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore — who has been moved from defensive back to tailback — punctuated the event with a short scoring run up the middle.
As for the move to ball carrier, McMillan said he’s certainly back in his comfort zone.
“I’m liking it,” McMillan said. “I’m learning a lot [from Joel Rockmore and Terrance Dixon]. Learning to keep my pads low, which is something I did not do in high school, so they make sure I do that.”
McMillan’s chances of logging significant playing time in the fall still appear to be slim with Rockmore and Dixon back to occupy NSU’s backfield. Dixon and Steven Hopper — who got carries on NSU’s second-string offense on Saturday — teamed up to fill the void left by Rockmore, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament against Missouri Southern in the RiverHawks’ second game of the 2013 campaign.
“Dixon and Hopper are running awesome right now, and you’re not even throwing Rockmore into the equation,” Robinson said. “We’ve got Rock looking like an NFL back on the sidelines, and he’s itching to play.”
When Rockmore returns in the fall, his running lanes could be wider if NSU’s quarterbacks can continually hit Garrett Powell, a 6-1, 200-pound wide receiver from Bartlesville who arrived at NSU via Pittsburg State. Powell caught two touchdown passes during NSU’s red-zone offense exhibit.
“Things are starting to come together under Coach Robinson,” said Powell, who left the Gorillas after spending his freshman and sophomore seasons at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M. “He’s got us going in the right direction. You saw some good things, but we’ve still got some things to work on.”
When NSU opens the 2014 season at Pittsburg State, who will be the quarterback trying to his NSU’s wide receivers? That’s a question that Robinson is leaving unanswered until fall camp.
“I want them to push each other,” Robinson said. “They both (Kevin and Johnny) possess a strong arm and Thor is more of a runner, so we can do some things with him.”
Pantastico transferred to NSU from Phoenix College in the offseason. Long occupied Deaton’s spot as the RiverHawks’ quarterback when Deaton suffered a fractured fibula in NSU’s season opener at Pittsburg State.
Regardless of who takes over at quarterback, Robinson wants his quarterbacks to make it a habit of finding Powell early and often.
“He’s fun to work with,” Robinson said. “That’s our first target we’re looking for, and that’s what I’m teaching the quarterbacks right now. You’re in man coverage and you’re going with the best look, that’s probably who you’re going to. We’ve got to get some younger guys to step up in that position. There’s some talent there, but somebody needs to grab it.”
Northeastern State will conclude its spring drills with three practices this week. And there’s still plenty that Robinson will be looking for in the final week in pads.
“We’re going to look to see where they can go now,” Robinson said. “We stayed base, base, base, but we’re going to try and amp it up a little bit. We want to see what they can handle. That’s the biggest thing that I’ve noticed coming in here: they’re not a common sense football team of just understanding things. So we’re starting from the ground up — just understanding the little things.”