BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Rich Robbins is finally going to get on the field for a varsity game with the Shenendehowa football Plainsmen.
That’s a dream come true for Robbins, even if his role is as an adversary. Robbins, 37, is now the head coach of state powerhouse Canisius, the squad that doubles as the Week 1 opponent for Shenendehowa at the Carrier Dome this upcoming Saturday in Syracuse in the Kickoff Classic.
Growing up, though, Robbins remembers going to as many Plainsmen games as he could before his family moved from Clifton Park to Pennsylvania in his early teen years.
“When I was growing up there, Shen football was it,” said Robbins, who grew up playing in the Plainsmen Junior Football league.
His father Rick Robbins, plus uncles Kevin Dailey and Steve Robbins, played for Shenendehowa and head coach Brent Steuerwald in the early 1970s, so Rich Robbins was born into admiring the green gridiron gang. Robbins’ family members played for the program during its absolute zenith, as Shenendehowa won eight league titles in the decade.
“That was probably the most successful decade, in terms of wins and losses, we’ve ever had at Shen,” Steuerwald said. “It was a time of major transition. The kids that came in [at the start of the decade] knew we were struggling for an identity.”
Circumstances, though, took Robbins away from Shenendehowa during his middle school years. While the class he played with growing up would end up becoming the 1995 group that won a regional championship, Robbins moved with his family to the Pittsburgh area and he ended up playing football for North Allegheny Senior High School, where he starred all over the field before playing defensive end at Alfred University.
After college, he worked in sales for a while before taking a volunteer coaching position with Canisius in 2006. A year later, he became the team’s defensive coordinator and he took over the program before the 2011 season. At that point, Canisius was treading water as a program and went 4-7 in his first season.
The next three years? Undefeated seasons in 2012 and 2014, and a league championship season in 2013.
“Rich Robbins has done an outstanding job with that program,” said Brian Clawson, Shenendehowa’s head coach. “Before he took over, they had a couple down seasons. As soon as he got that job, he turned the program around quickly and now it is a powerhouse.”
Robbins is entering his fifth season as head coach and said it has been on his to-do list to get a game scheduled with the team of his boyhood. Those attempts never worked out until earlier this year when Canisius’ originally-scheduled opponent — Monroe-Woodbury — for the multi-day Kickoff Classic backed out of playing the game. When that happened, Canisius and Shenendehowa were able to make their meeting happen after several years of trying.
“He immediately jumped in for it and was super excited,” Robbins said of Clawson.
Shenendehowa was originally scheduled to play La Salle Institute, who now will play Monroe-Woodbury in Week 1.
Robbins said he is hopeful the two elite programs could meet again in the future and not have this year’s game be a one-off affair. His hope, he said, was always to bring his Canisius group to Shenendehowa’s home field and give himself the chance to coach against the Plainsmen on their home field.
“But, this is the next best thing,” Robbins said. “The Carrier Dome, that’s not too shabby.”