Edmond Robinson is headed home to Charleston, S.C., on Friday for a five-week hiatus before the start of Vikings training camp.
He expects it to be an emotional day.
Robinson, a second-year linebacker, plans to visit his former church, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, to honor victims on the anniversary of a mass shooting that took place in that historic southern church.
One year ago Friday, a gunman killed nine people during a prayer meeting. The victims included Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a family friend who mentored Robinson’s mother as she served as pastoral intern at Emanuel AME.
Robinson knew a few of the victims personally.
“I’ll make sure I go there and pay my respects,” he said.
Robinson tried to keep his mind focused on football during the Vikings mandatory minicamp this week, but memories of the tragedy of one year ago were inescapable.
Robinson remembers studying his playbook during his first minicamp as a rookie when he checked Facebook. He read in horror about a shooting at a Charleston church and that a pastor had been killed.
His mother, Ann, now serves as lead pastor at a different Emanuel AME church in the West Ashley district of Charleston. Robinson feared the worst reading early reports.
He called his mom four times but she did not answer. He called his brother. No answer. His father. No answer.
Relief overcame him once he finally made contact with his mother, but sadness quickly followed as details of the shooting became clear.
“We move on but we don’t forget about what happened,” Robinson said. “A year later, people are still trying to put pieces together but still continuing to move on in life.”
Robinson recalled his final conversation with the Rev. Pinckney shortly after the Vikings selected him in the seventh round of the draft.
Robinson was a classic long shot. He played at Division II Newberry College, the first player drafted from that school since 1974. He was making a transition to linebacker after playing safety in college.
Pinckney gave Robinson a pep talk before he left for rookie camp in Minnesota.
“He told me, we’re saying a prayer for you, but you’re going to be fine,” Robinson said. “That was the last time I heard from him.”
The anniversary already figured to be a time of somber reflection for Charleston. The tragedy over the weekend in Orlando brought reminders of the grief and anger that consumed Robinson’s hometown last year.
“I just don’t know what takes place in an individual’s mind to do something like that,” he said. “My mom tells me, the only thing you can do is pray for people like that. It was definitely hard hearing what happened in Orlando because those are innocent people. Same thing what happened in my hometown.”
Robinson finds comfort in the strength displayed by his hometown and the way citizens of all races unified in the face of evil.
“I guess he may have thought it was going to divide Charleston or even parts of South Carolina,” Robinson said. “But as people saw, it really brought all of South Carolina together even closer.”
Robinson returns home in a good place professionally, just as the Rev. Pinckney predicted. Robinson worked with the first-team defense in minicamp in the absence of injured starter Anthony Barr.
Robinson played in nine games last season, starting two, and quietly has earned confidence of the coaching staff.
“I just want to let them know that they can count on me,” he said. “If you come out here and bust your tail, anything is possible.”
A safety in college, Robinson often defended slot receivers in coverage. His speed and instincts are evident as an outside linebacker.
He admits he played tentative at times as rookie. He was learning a new position while trying to avoid mistakes. He feels more comfortable with everything now so he’s playing with less hesitation.
“Go out there and make a play,” he said of his mentality. “Don’t go out there and be like a practice dummy. Instinctual players always find the ball.”
Robinson hopes to secure a key role in training camp as a backup who can play multiple spots. But as he sat on a loading dock outside Winter Park this week, his thoughts also were on his hometown and being able to spend time with his parents and four older brothers.
“A lot of love,” he said. “They’re waiting on me to get home.”