The worst injury Fred Robbins endured in football became a wakeup call for his future in life.
It's a message he's now trying to instill with aspiring youths in looking beyond football, or any athletic endeavor.
"You have to have a Plan B and you've got to have an education," said Robbins, 37, a Tate High graduate, who played an astounding 12 seasons in the NFL at defensive tackle. "I don't want to squelch dreams, but I want them to understand you need a backup plan."
He and wife, Tia, have founded Mister Robbins Neighborhood. Their latest project involved meeting with 36 Pensacola area prep football players and their parents in a three day career development seminar and football instruction at the Andrews Institute facility in Gulf Breeze.
"The key elements are being able to drive home football and what it takes, but to also drive home education," said Robbins, who wants to expand the reach of the program in future sessions.
The three day conference concludes Friday. It was specifically structured to make sure the talented players understood the dedication required and the rarity of playing football beyond high school. And the need to prepare for never making it that far.
A variety of speakers have participated, including University of West Florida new football coach Pete Shinnick, whose father played 13 NFL seasons for the Baltimore Colts and then worked as a long-time NFL assistant coach when Pete was growing up.
"When my wife and I started this program, we thought about how we wanted to do it and I wanted to make sure it was after my career ended, so I could really be hands on," Robbins said.
He provides personal experience with the necessity of education.
During the 2008 season with the New York Giants — a year removed from winning the Super Bowl with the Giants — Robbins made an interception against the Philadelphia Eagles. He was heading downfield when tripped up.
"It had snowed earlier and the turf was hard. I landed straight on my knee," Robbins said. "And it started to swell before halftime. I just thought it was something I could play through.
"But when I got it X-rayed afterward, I had fractured my knee. I had a micro fracture. I was on crutches for 10-12 weeks. It was reality check. Because guys don't bounce back from micro fractures.
"The first thing that comes to my head, what am I going to do now? Wonder if can't play football anymore?"
As he lay in a hospital bed, Robbins began thinking about his future. The fear was reinforced by knowing he did not have his degree from Wake Forest where he played his collegiate football.
In relaying the experience to the prep players and parents Wednesday night, Robbins explained he instantly made finishing his college degree a priority. He earned it the next summer.
He wound up playing his final two seasons in 2010 and 2011 with the St. Louis Rams. In 2010, he produced one of his best seasons with 26 tackles, six sacks and two fumble recoveries.
"I knew I had to get back on the field, because I had nothing else and once I got back on the field, I knew I had to finish my degree," Robbins said. "At that point, I was maybe 12 credits away.
"I took three classes in the off season. It was a long off season that offseason, but it was something I had to do. I don't want these kids to have to go through something like that.
"They see the Super Bowl, the All Pro (status). But what they didn't know is that it could have been something else. It could have ended in a different way."
For most youths, it does end a different way. The conference speakers presented the statistical reality. Of the more than 1 million prep age football players across the U.S., only 19,549 receive a college scholarship of some sort.
Only 215 of 100,000 high school seniors ever play on an NFL roster. A player is 2,225 times more likely to get struck by lightning — and those odds are rare — than ever playing pro football.
"We have to make them aware of the statistics," Tia Robbins said. "We always had the name MIster Robbins Neighborhood, but we did not know we were going to shape it. We had to narrow it down.
"How do we give back? For so many kids they don't have the resources. They don't know about academic scholarships."
Said Fred Robbins: "It's kinda one of those things where I wish I would have known then what I know now. Instead of being a better athlete, let's focus on being a better student."
Fred Robbins file
• AGE: 37
• HOMETOWN: Pensacola
• HIGH SCHOOL: Tate
• COLLEGE: Wake Forest
• NFL CAREER: 12 seasons with Minnesota Vikings, New York Giants and St. Louis Rams.
•MISTER ROBBINS NEIGHBORHOOD: The mission founded by Fred Robbins and wife Tia is to stress the reality of football and the need to balance education with football commitment. Program related only a small percentage of high school players get a college football scholarship. Only 315 players from a pool of more than 9,000 college players ever get invited to an NFL combine and even less make an NFL roster.