American Tony Robinson brings ‘football culture’ to Emirates American Football League gridiron

Former Georgia Tech player returns to sport as Abu Dhabi Wildcats’ new coach and is already targeting another appearance for his team in the EAFL title game, writes Ali Khaled.
The EAFL season starts next month but Tony Robinson, who moved to the UAE in August, has been working out with Abu Dhabi Wildcat players for the past few weeks. Delores Johnson / The National
The EAFL season starts next month but Tony Robinson, who moved to the UAE in August, has been working out with Abu Dhabi Wildcat players for the past few weeks. Delores Johnson / The National

The Emirates American Football League (EAFL) has been in existence for three years, and it may have just delivered its biggest coup yet: the appointment of former college football stand-out Tony Robinson as coach of the Abu Dhabi Wildcats.

It has been a long journey for the 37-year-old Robinson, a powerful defensive tackle in college from his days at Georgia Tech, where he played for four seasons and started 21 games. He moved to the UAE after his wife landed a job as teacher at Khalifa City in the summer.

After seven weeks, he already feels comfortable, he said. “People have gone out of their way to make us feel at home.”

The new EAFL season starts in November, and Robinson has already had the chance to have a look at his players, including Vivaldi Tulysse, the multi-talented quarterback/running back/cornerback who helped the club win the first two Desert Bowl championships.

“It’s still very early stages, we’ve been getting a couple of workouts over at a small park at the Eastern Mangroves, working on footwork, conditioning, things of that nature.”

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Robinson is one of the most prominent American footballers to get involved in the league, which features many Americans and Canadians but also Emiratis and expatriates from dozens of countries, some of whom are new to the game.

“What I bring to the table for the guys here is that I know what football culture is like and I’ll be able to help them to get used to that,” said Robinson, a Georgia native and a lifelong fan of the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons.

“But the sport is so new here that we need to take our time.”

Robinson is ready and proud to take on the chance to spread the word about the most popular sport in the US.

“Speaking to some of the people here, one of the things they’ve wanted for a long time was someone with football acumen,” he said.

“There are a bunch of different people who have different opinions of the game. If taught right, it’s a safe game. It’s a fun game and it’s more than just a game, you can learn things about life playing football.”

Robinson believes football can have a positive impact on the lives of those who play it.

“Life is going to knock you down from time to time,” he said.

“Football teaches you that you will get knocked down but the main thing is to get back up, and the second thing is to make sure you don’t get knocked down the same way twice, so you can apply those lesson to life.”

Abu Dhabi’s Wildcats won the first two EAFL championships, both over the Dubai Stallions, by 20-12 and 14-13. Last year they had to watch as the Stallions overpowered the Dubai Barracudas 30-6 in Desert Bowl III.

“My target is to get back there,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, once we get a system in place and start to gel as a team and build a team culture, I think we will be able to impose our will on the league.”

For Robinson, football gave him the chance to attend Georgia Tech, one of the top universities in the US. His academic achievements remain as much a highlight as any sporting ones. “That’s probably the thing that I’m most proud off,” he said of his schooling.

After he missed a chance to play in the NFL, Robinson stayed away from football for six years.

“I wasn’t really active in it but I watched it a lot,” he said. “Then finally it dawned on me that I had too much knowledge of this game to take to the grave with me. So I figured I may as well do what my coaches did for me growing up.”

It is a decision that has ultimately led him to Abu Dhabi, and now he wants to repay his debt to football.

“For me it’s more than just love for the game, it’s a passion,” Robinson said.

“You’re always drawn to the things you are passionate about and you always put everything in to them. I have a burning passion for the game. It’s been too good to me to not spread the love and teach people what I know about this game and what it is capable of doing for them.”

akhaled@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE

Published: October 13, 2015 04:00 AM

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