By Nate Thompson

NORTON SHORES – Matt Koziak stood in the rain outside the Mona Shores locker room on the evening of Friday, Oct. 13.

As a passionate head coach, he couldn’t hide his frustration after his Mona Shores Sailors suffered their first loss of the season to conference rival Muskegon.

But he beamed with pride when senior quarterback Tristan Robbins was mentioned.

Despite the loss, Robbins turned in a stellar performance, with 185 passing yards and 86 tough yards on the ground, while routinely driving the Sailors up and down the field against a very tough Muskegon defense.

Robbins may be small for a quarterback, but he more than compensates with his work ethic and determination.

Tristan Robbins goes to the air in a game this season. Photo/Eric Sturr

“In the college recruiting circuit they want a typical (sized) quarterback,” Koziak said. “I get it. But I’m telling you what, Tristan is a winner. He’s scrappy, he’s gritty, he’s spinning for extra yardage. He’s using every ounce of his body for his teammates, to help his team be better.”

While college coaches haven’t been blowing up the phone trying to recruit the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Robbins, he continues to put up numbers that truly define him – 1,494 yards passing with 15 touchdowns and 720 yards rushing with 10 touchdowns.

Robbins and the 9-1 Sailors will try to pick up victory No. 10 this season, and clinch a Division 2 district championship on Friday, when they visit undefeated Forest Hills Central in a huge playoff matchup that will be watched throughout the state.

The winner will advance to the state quarterfinals.

Robbins takes the ball up the middle for a big gain. Photo/Eric Sturr

“We’ve definitely already played against some pretty good competition, so we feel we’re prepared for this game,” Robbins said. “I feel pretty confident out there. Our offense is executing pretty well. I’ve been in this offense for a few years now, so it’s pretty easy right now to execute.”

About 90 percent of Sailors’ offense is based on quarterback reads after the snap, which Robbins does very well, particularly when making lightning-quick decisions on whether to hand off the ball to a running back, or keep it and sprint up the middle.

“On the veer option play, I’m reading the 1-tech, 3-tech, or 5-tech (defensive linemen),” Robbins said. “If the guy squeezes down on the running back, then I’ve gotta pull (the ball). Then on the inside veer, I’m keying on the outside linebacker. I’m either going to attack him or pitch him.”

Koziak said Robbins was wrong on a couple reads during the Sailors’ opening-round playoff victory against Portage Central last Friday. But few outsiders would have noticed, because Robbins ran for 216 yards and two touchdowns, and tossed three long touchdown passes to receiver Keyshawn Summerville.

“The game’s slowed down for him,” Koziak said. “He’s got about 28-29 games under his belt here, so he’s developed that comfort level. He’s definitely hit his stride these last few weeks.”

An interesting advantage to Robbins’ skill set was brought to light by Muskegon Coach Shane Fairfield, who noted that Robbins is a high school wrestler during the winter. Robbins was a win away from reaching the individual state wrestling finals last season, and will compete at 171 pounds this winter.

Robbins battles for yards against Rockford. Photo/Jason Goorman

“I’ll never, ever doubt the talents of a 5-foot-7, 5-foot-9 quarterback, because that kid is special,” Fairfield said. “It’s those wrestlers. They know how to use their leverage. They’re scrapping for extra yardage because they live in that crouched position. And they have that killer mentality because wrestling is an individual sport.”

Koziak said he wasn’t overly concerned when Robbins stepped up as the Sailors quarterback as a junior, after projected starter Drew Switzer suffered a broken collarbone just weeks before the regular season.

“I did believe he’d have a chance to be special, mostly because of his work ethic,” Koziak said about Robbins. “The way the kid dedicated himself at getting better, I knew he’d be destined to be a good player.

“Now, I don’t want that to sound like it’s my superior coaching that helped turn him into a superstar. It’s not like that at all. Tristan’s the one who put the work in to become the player that he is today. It’s his work ethic. That’s what separates him from others.”

Robbins said he’s spoken with coaches and visited the campus at Division 2 Northwood University in Midland, but said he may end up playing at a Division 3 or NAIA college.

Wherever he ends up, he’s bound to make a college coaching staff happy they took a chance on him.

“I think I could adapt pretty well to another offense and I could play wide receiver or slot, and I can also play safety on defense,” Robbins said. “I feel I’m a pretty good athlete. I can catch, kick and punt it pretty well. And I’m pretty balanced at safety. Wherever I get a chance, whether it be at wide receiver, slot, or quarterback, I’m all for it.”

District final football matchups

Division 2
Mona Shores (9-1) at Forest Hills Central (10-0), 7 p.m.

Division 3
Muskegon (10-0) vs. Zeeland West ( 7-3) @ Grand Haven High School, 7 p.m.

Division 5
Grant (7-3) at Oakridge (8-2), 7 p.m.

Division 6
Kent City (10-0) at Montague (10-0), 7 p.m.

Division 8
Muskegon Catholic (8-1) at Mendon (10-0), 1 p.m.