PENSACOLA — Above all else, connections and a leap of faith led JC Robles to West Florida.
Yet, it was his work ethic that put him on track to be the UWF football team’s starting quarterback, Robles largely expected to set up behind center when the Argos open their season against Carson-Newman at 6 p.m. Thursday on the road in Jefferson City, Tennessee.
After securing his release from Colorado State during August of 2018, the redshirt senior began to bide his time. In the fall, the NCAA’s transfer portal isn’t quite the hotbed of activity it becomes when college football season comes to a close in December and January.
That gave Robles the time to do his research, to send emails and to prepare for whoever came knocking.
UWF was the first to rap at the door.
Intrigued by the prospect off adding a 6-foot-5, 230-pound signal caller who rated as a three-star prospect coming out of El Diamante High School in Visalia, California, Jammie Deese, the Argos’ former offensive coordinator, reached out this past January.
Twenty-four hours later, Robles was in Pensacola, sight unseen.
“The next morning, I was in contact with (quarterbacks) coach (Kaleb) Nobles, coach (Pete) Shinnick, and by the next day, I had an apartment here, a flight to move everything out of my home in Colorado and drive over here,” Robles said.
So why the leap of faith? Connections. An astonishing amount of connections.
While at CSU, Robles’ strength and conditioning coach studied under Kent Morgan, UWF’s chief strength coach. Meanwhile, Jake Vieux, one of Morgan’s assistant coaches, spent two seasons in Fort Collins with Robles.
“I heard nothing but good things about the program, about the area,” Robles said. “Obviously, they had success pretty early on, and I wanted to come to a place where I had the best opportunity to compete for a starting job and also to be successful and win some football games.”
A series of breaks, lucky or otherwise, put Robles in a position to do just that almost immediately.
Mike Beaudry, the 2017 GSC Offensive Freshman of the Year, elected to transfer shortly after Robles arrived on campus, winning the starting job at UConn in late August, and Sam Vaughn, the Argos’ starting quarterback in 2018, was rehabbing his elbow after Tommy John surgery.
That left only Robles, Evan Johnson and Grey Jackson, who switched positions from quarterback to linebacker prior to the 2018 campaign, as the only able-bodied quarterbacks on the roster for spring practices. The latter two are no longer with the program.
“Through that, I never thought, ‘I’m the guy,’” Robles said. “The job wasn’t just handed to me.”
Nevertheless, Robles took the bulk of first-team reps when fall camp began in August, competing with Vaughn and redshirt freshman Austin Reed, and impressed coaches and teammates while acclimating to the Panhandle’s signature heat and humidity.
“Me not being from here, I wanted to be proactive about it, so I was drinking water like crazy,” Robles said. “More water than I’ve ever been. Even then, I’m a quarterback and I’m not doing much out here; I hand the ball off and carry my fake out for 10 yards and I’m at a loss of breath.
“It’s been tough, but it is what it is.”
Beyond the heat, standing in the way of Robles’ success this season is that which plagues all first-year quarterbacks at any level of organized football: The playbook.
Thus far, it hasn’t been a problem, Robles showing a deep understanding of Shinnick’s spread offense at the Argos’ Fan Day scrimmage some two weeks ago.
He led three scoring drives on a balmy August night, guiding the Argos roughly 70 yards down the field on the scrimmage’s first possession for a field goal before tossing two touchdown passes as the night wore on.
“JC came out, and I really thought he was on fire,” Shinnick said after the scrimmage. “He saw things well, moved in the pocket extremely well, gave himself an opportunity and really has just continued to get better from Day 1.”
Robles said his success thus far has stemmed both from the complex pro-style offense he ran with the Rams and the simplicity of UWF’s fast-paced attack. Without the former, he said, the latter would have been almost impossible to learn in the few short months he was allotted.
“Here, I can play free,” he said. “The O-line handles their stuff. Receivers handle their stuff. I got the easy part
“I just gotta give it to the playmakers and let them do their thing.”