Wan’Dale Robinson was going to be a Kentucky Wildcat.

A national top 100 player, Robinson was an all-purpose star at Frankfort Western Hills High. He rushed for over 2,000 yards in his sophomore and junior seasons of high school, and missed a three-peat in his senior year by 27 yards. He caught 102 passes, and also went 15-for-22 on passing attempts. We’re not even mentioning defense, where his high school coach Don Miller says his improvement was one of the team’s keys to success.

“In high school he played safety, linebacker, receiver, quarterback, running back, punt returner, kickoff returner, and probably even more that I don’t remember,” laughs Miller.

Robinson was a walking, talking SportsCenter top plays candidate.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVfOounD8F4

He did the steady, he did the spectacular. And he was going to stay home and be a Kentucky Wildcat. Robinson committed on Nov. 1, 2018. While coaches cannot comment on unsigned players, a video of the UK staff bursting into high-fives and backslaps circulated — a video that was understood to be of them watching Robinson’s commitment announcement to Kentucky.

https://twitter.com/UKCoachStoops/status/1058072654970847232

It seemed like a match made in Heaven.

It lasted about 35 days.

A few days after winning Kentucky’s Mr. Football award, the rumor mill on Robinson ramped to a crescendo. Seems he reconsidered that commitment. On Dec. 5, 2018, he decommitted from Kentucky and committed to Nebraska. Two weeks later, he signed with the Cornhuskers. Hints and understandings were given. Mark Stoops’ ball-control offense didn’t offer a ton of opportunities for a 5-10 jitterbug of a receiver. And it was Kentucky versus Nebraska. Tradition, winning, etc.

“I wasn’t surprised,” Miller said of the flip. “I believe he felt that Scott Frost’s offense would ultimately help him reach his goal of playing in the NFL.”

Two years in, things had changed. Kentucky had come to the end of the line with ground-and-pound ball under Eddie Gran and brought in NFL wunderkind Liam Coen to sort out this new-fangled forward passing business. Nebraska had been very, well, un-Nebraska. In the 2 seasons since Robinson’s commitment, even without any kind of downfield passing game, Kentucky went 13-11 while Nebraska was 8-12. Kentucky won the Belk Bowl and Gator Bowl, and Nebraska hadn’t made a bowl appearance.

For Robinson, Nebraska did use him, albeit somewhat erratically. Two seasons netted 134 rushing attempts, 91 receptions, 11 kickoff returns and a punt return. Robinson showed big-play capabilities, rushing for 580 yards and 4 touchdowns and adding 914 yards and 3 touchdowns on receptions. He was among the most productive receivers in the Big Ten as a sophomore, and as a true freshman, was 1 of only 2 Nebraska players to reach 1,000 all-purpose yards in their initial season.

But uncertainty with his role (Nebraska bounced him around as a back/receiever), continued mediocrity under Scott Frost and a new approach in Lexington suddenly brought the old Wan’Dale rumor mill abuzz again.

Wan’Dale Robinson would be a Kentucky Wildcat. And if it took 2 years to get here, this time, it was for keeps.

Another happy Kentuckian

Plenty of people are excited to see Robinson wear the blue and white of his homestate Wildcats, among them coach Miller back at Western Hills. Miller’s relationship with Robinson goes way back.

“I actually knew of Wan’Dale when he was playing youth league football,” Miller said. “He was already making a name for himself at such a young age.”

Miller quickly understood the talent he had in Robinson.

“It wasn’t until his freshman year that we understood what an impact player he would be,” says Miller. “I can still remember our student section chanting, ‘He’s a freshman!’ every time he made a big play.”

Miller clearly enjoyed coaching Robinson, and when asked about what makes him special, he zeroed in on a surprising element.

“He is truly happy when those around him are successful as well,” Miller said. “He finds true joy in the success of his teammates and has an understanding that individual successes lead to ultimate team success.”

And what will he bring to Kentucky this fall?

“Wan’Dale’s speed and quickness, as well as his lateral movement and field vision reminds me of Tyreek Hill,” Miller said. “But I feel like his versatility and ability to do whatever is needed to help his team be successful is similar to Randall Cobb when he was a Wildcat.”

In Lexington … finally

On the field, Robinson fills out of Kentucky’s immediate needs — somebody to catch the passes that Coen will call this fall. Veteran Josh Ali returned to Kentucky, and his 54 receptions for 473 yards in 2020 demonstrate his experience and potential. But after Ali, it got thin fast, particularly with a significant camp injury to tight end Keaton Upshaw, who was the 2nd leading returning receiver for UK.

Enter Robinson, who will be a slot receiver this fall.

Kentucky coaches have been somewhat understated about Robinson, but it’s hard to mistake the elation for first-year OC Coen, and the stick-to-it duo of Stoops and Vince Marrow, who just missed on Robinson in 2018 only to reel him back in for 2020.

“We recruited him extremely hard and tried to do all the right things and make it very difficult for him to say no to us, and that’s our job,” Stoops said recently. “It didn’t work out that way the first go-round, but it came back the second time, and very grateful to have him in our program.”

When Robinson’s name pops up, Stoops acknowledges his potential impact.

“He’s a difference-maker,” Stoops said at SEC Media Days. “He’s a guy that was electric this spring, and you could feel his presence on the field. Very excited to have him on our team.”

“He’s so dynamic,” Coen raved in the spring. “He’s not just a gadget guy. He can really get the ball down the field.”

Coen continued, “The thing I love about Wan’Dale is he loves to play the game and he loves to learn the game.”

It’s not just Kentucky’s coaches who have noted Robinson’s potential impact. Phil Steele and Athlon both named him an All-SEC third-team pick before he ever played a snap in the league. A 247sports survey of transfers ranked Robinson as the 4th-best transfer in the nation. Expectations are sky-high.

For Robinson’s part, he professes happiness to be back in his old Kentucky home.

“I’m super excited,” he said at Kentucky’s Media Day. “I’m just glad to be back home.”

Robinson addressed his return to Lexington, noting, “I wanted to keep my eyes open a little bit, but I knew I was really eyeing coming back here … it was a really easy choice to come back home.”

For Wan’Dale Robinson, coming home sets up nicely for a memorable 2021 season.