David Martin-Robinson had felt pain before, but the pain he felt when he injured his shoulder against Rutgers University on Sept. 4, 2021, was different. For a player who has broken more bones than he can count, this injury meant a lot more.
“As I fell sideways, my shoulder hit the ground and I heard the crack,” Martin-Robinson said. “It was the second quarter, my first catch of the season.”
Martin-Robinson’s world came crashing down after hauling in a 23-yard pass against the Scarlet Knights before being sidelined with a shoulder injury. His injury was his second to require surgery, and the rehab process sidelined him for several months, taking a toll on his physical and mental health.
The Temple Football redshirt junior tight end has a commanding presence on and off the field. His 6-foot-4-inch height coupled with a 255-pound frame allows him to be a dominant blocker and an even harder runner in the open field.
Martin-Robinson played his first snap of football in more than a year against the University of Massachusetts on Sept. 24. He has 22 catches for 249 yards this year, including a 114-yard performance at the University of Houston on Nov. 12. His comeback was day-to-day for a few weeks, meaning the team had no intentions of rushing him back onto the field.
The issue for Martin-Robinson was never his ability on the field, but whether he could stay healthy enough to see the results of his rehab. Outside of his two known surgeries, he also played a game with a broken foot last season, before his injury this offseason.
“We played Tulsa at Tulsa,” Martin-Robinson said. “I caught a jet-sweep and the way the guy tackled me was weird. I didn’t really know that it was broken until the season ended.”
The physical implications of his multiple injuries were severe for Martin-Robinson, but his mental perseverance, while remaining sidelined, proved to be the most difficult part of rehab. Martin- Robinson struggled with depression for months because, without football, he lost sight of his career goals and knew it would take a lot of effort to find his way back to a clear mental state, he said.
“The injuries can be very discouraging,” said Darius Pittman, a former Temple tight end and Martin-Robinson’s 2021 roommate. “He’s always been motivated and he’s always been in the rehab room, putting in the work.”
Football is an outlet for Martin-Robinson, so without the game, he needed to find other ways to clear his head.
In times of distress, Martin-Robinson leaned on family, friends and coaches to give him the confidence to work harder. Eventually, Martin-Robinson started practicing a skin care routine as a way to take care of his mind and body. It’s an activity that allows him to take his mind off football and the pressure of performing well on the field.
He also spends more time working on his body by stretching more and focusing closely on the minor details of a football player’s health, like understanding his energy limits and focusing on his mental strength.
“I found something that helped me a lot was self care,” Martin-Robinson said. “There was a time where I didn’t feel like I cared about myself.”
When he is not on the field or taking care of himself, he stays involved in the locker room, providing a shoulder to lean on and a reliable teammate voice. Martin-Robinson has dealt with both the mental successes and struggles of being a Division I athlete which allows him to help teammates with their own personal struggles. He finds solace in the fact he can make a difference in fellow players’ morale.
Head coach Stan Drayton took Martin-Robinson’s injuries on a case-by-case basis, but pointed to Martin-Robinson’s intangibles as his key attribute.
“I think very highly of him as a player,” Drayton said. “He’s extremely intelligent, but there’s some things that we’ll make some game day decisions.”
Martin-Robinson has overcome pain in his sport, but each time he steps on the field becomes a step towards a balanced lifestyle. The recovery process has taught Martin-Robinson that his sport does not define who he is, but football can be a mainstay in his wellness.
“Sometimes you can get lost in making you being an athlete your whole life,” Martin-Robinson said. “When that gets taken away, sometimes you feel a little lost. Communication is the biggest part. I know I always have people around me.”