Jeff Brohm listened to his former player on the phone, but didn’t fully believe what he was hearing.
At the time of this particular call from Chris Vaughn, the former Louisville wide receiver turned area gym operator and trainer, Brohm was neck-deep in recruiting star wide receiver Rondale Moore.
Moore, of course, ultimately picked Brohm and the Boilermakers and became an instant college football sensation, earning first-team Associated Press All-America honors as a freshman last year.
At this point, though, Moore was a four-star recruit at Trinity High in Louisville — the same school Brohm attended — being courted by powerhouses around the country and training at Vaughn’s gym.
Vaughn, however, called Brohm not about Moore, but about a new face in his gym with a similar name and a similar game: Wan’Dale Robinson.
“It’s funny because I can recall the conversation,” Vaughn told the Journal Star this week. “I remember telling him, ‘Hey, I got another one.’ He was heavy in on Rondale at that point and he’s like, ‘Yeah, right. There’s only so many.’” And I said, ‘They’re that similar.’”
Fast forward three years, and Robinson’s Huskers are set to take on Moore’s Boilermakers in a matchup of two highlight-reel players who have since become close friends.
Back then, Robinson was just a sophomore at Western Hills High in Frankfort, Kentucky, but he was already putting up ridiculous numbers on the field. That season, he rushed for 2,015 yards in 11 games (12.2 per carry), added 434 receiving yards and scored 31 total touchdowns.
Not only that, but he was willing to go a great distance — literally — to continue getting better and better.
So Robinson showed up one day at Vaughn’s Aspirations Fitness Institution in Louisville, a well-known spot for high-caliber athletes to train in the area, but also a 45-minute trip west on Interstate 64 from Frankfort.
“So the first day I actually showed up at (Aspirations) was a big session, so there was like 30 kids in there,” Robinson told the Journal Star.
“Basically, when I met Wan’Dale, he was a dynamic athlete, a really good player and stuff like that,” Vaughn said. “But he kind of played out 45 minutes from where my gym is located and he would commute back and forth, which in itself is super-impressive to be a 15-, 16-year old kid who’s willing to go an hour-and-a-half down and back to train. He was super-committed to working out.”
So Robinson started making the trek about three times a week. And as Vaughn got a handle on the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Robinson’s talent, he knew he had to match his star pupils together.
“What I wanted to transition Wan’Dale into becoming was a slot receiver because of his size and having a lot more value at the highest level, which, his goal is to play in the National Football League as a slot receiver,” Vaughn said. “So with Rondale Moore and him being of similar statue and similar skillsets, it just made a lot of sense to partner those two up and for them to push each other.”
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The two quickly became good friends.
“Once we started training together, everybody saw how we were kind of similar — we were the same size and had the same name almost,” Robinson said. “So everybody started comparing us to each other and then we started training together one-on-one with Chris. We just got better and better every day with that.”
Moore, who played in Louisville but is actually from New Albany, Indiana, just across the Ohio River, ultimately picked the Boilermakers over a host of college football bluebloods because, as Vaughn said, he had very specific goals.
“He could have went to any school in the country, just like Wan’Dale had the opportunity to go anywhere he wanted, but he was very intentional about what he wanted, which was to be a freshman All-American, put up big numbers and solidify himself as a guy that’s going to be good enough to play in the National Football League.”
Moore did just that, leading the nation with 114 catches and posting 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns in addition to 213 rushing yards and a pair of scores.
“He was almost like a brother to me, especially going through the recruiting process and asking him about what type of things he had to go through and things like that,” Robinson said of Moore. “He's just been a really, really big help with me."
Robinson had twists and turns in his own recruitment, originally verbally committing to in-state Kentucky before flipping to Nebraska in December. He signed with the Huskers and enrolled early but was limited by a minor hamstring injury in spring ball. This fall, though, he’s quickly become a staple of Scott Frost’s offense.
He has 33 catches for 407 yards, plus 297 rushing (4.2 per carry) and five total touchdowns. Robinson has taken off in Big Ten play, averaging 111.6 offensive yards per game and scoring all five of his touchdowns in the past five games. In doing so, he’s become not only NU’s top big-play threat but also a burgeoning leader at a young age.
“He’s a tough kid, he’s a competitor, he wants the ball and he doesn’t shy away from the big stage,” Vaughn said. “He’s accepted the fact that he’s small, but I’m always on those guys like, when you’re smaller, you’ve got to have all the intangibles and do all the other things right that other guys don’t do to set yourself apart. That’s be tougher, be more competitive, play harder, be smarter. He just plays with a chip on his shoulder, loves the game and plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Vaughn said he had a FaceTime conversation with Robinson and Moore together on Monday and that he’s in touch with both on a weekly basis. Moore has played in just four games this fall, missing the past four with a hamstring injury, but could be on track to return against the Huskers.
Robinson smiled when he was asked if he hopes his explosive counterpart is able to play.
“Yes and no. I hope he comes back, obviously, because I love seeing him play,” Robinson said. “I think our games are similar, but I don't want him to cause our defense any fits, either. Either way, I'll be happy to see him."
So will Vaughn, who is coming to West Lafayette, Indiana, to see two of his star students square off.
“I can’t wait. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a year-and-a-half now,” Vaughn said. “It’ll be a good moment. I’ve got a newborn son and I’m going to take him to see his first college game. I’ve been waiting for this one to take him to and see both of my guys. It’s going to be a good experience to just sit back and watch both of those guys go out and do what they work so hard to do.”