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September 30, 2021

Athlete Interview: Challenges of a Quarterback turned Linebacker with Robert Harding III

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**Athlete Interviews are posted every Thursday for recruiting advice, what to look for, and more.  

Robert Harding III is a junior linebacker at the State University of New York, Cortland. Being a quarterback out of Xavier High School, he faced two challenges in his recruiting process. First, Xavier High School travels a minimum of thirty minutes a day to find field space in overcrowded Manhattan. Second, Xavier runs the Single Wing offense. The Single Wing offense is not known for developing and featuring quarterbacks. After working year-round to develop as a passer, he took his recruiting process into his own hands. Fast forward three years, and you’ll find Bobby playing a defensive position for the Cortland Red Dragons. He sat down with LRT Sports to talk about his unique recruiting process and the transition from offensive to defensive player.

Playing quarterback in a single wing offense where there’s less than five pass attempts per game, how did you gain exposure as a quarterback recruit?
One thing playing quarterback in a run-heavy offense taught me is to maximize every opportunity I got to have the ball in my hands. Every time I was called upon to put the football in the air, I wanted to put on a show. In terms of recruiting, I attended a lot of college camps and played on a seven on seven team with several Power-Five conference recruits. Competing in these environments not only got more eyes on my game but made me more competitive. 

Related: 6 Tips to Get Recruited for College Football

Other than attending showcases hosted by schools, how did you use the off-season to make strides in your recruitment?
During the off-season, I did a lot of work in the weight room and on the field to prepare myself to play quarterback at the college level. I wanted to make sure that wherever I went to throw for coaches, I could compete with guys who were more experienced and well-coached than myself. I wanted to be as prepared as I possibly could for my opportunity to play college football. 

What was the most challenging aspect of transitioning from high school to college?
The most challenging part of transitioning from high school to college football was the mental and physical challenges a college football player faces every day. On the field, every single player is physically talented and was most likely the top player in their high school program. In the meeting room, the hardest part about being a freshman is learning the playbook while getting the bulk of your reps on the scout team. Separating yourself in this environment is very difficult, and ultimately can make many mentally weak athletes step away from the game. Off the field, student-athletes in college also face the challenge of balancing their academic and athletic lives, which can be a very mentally and physically exhausting process.

Related: Former OSU Football Player, Jashon Cornell, on Biggest Challenge as a College Athlete and why Ohio State

When and why did your coaches switch you from quarterback to safety?
During spring practices in the second semester of my freshman year, my coaches met with me and told me that I was going to switch from quarterback to safety. While I lacked previous experience on the defensive side of the football, they believed my athleticism, physicality, and work ethic would enable me to become a contributing asset to the defensive side of the ball. 

What skills have you had to develop as a safety that playing quarterback could have never prepared you for?
Having switched from quarterback to safety, and then to the linebacker position, I have acquired several skills that I would never have developed at quarterback. Learning to backpedal, open my hips, and attacking the football in the air were skills very different than those required of a quarterback. Making my most recent position change to being a defensive player, the physical part of football has made itself very much a part of my game, challenging myself to take on men that weigh 50-100lbs more than me every play is probably the most beautifully violent part about the linebacker position. Simultaneously, I have had to elevate my ability to read an offense and trust my keys to take my feet to the football.

Related school rating: SUNY Cortland

Was there one play, practice, or game that stood out in your college career so far as your “I have arrived moment?” 
I don’t believe I have reached the point as a football player where I can say that I have “made it.” However, one of the more memorable moments in my college career has been starting my first game, being one of the leading tacklers in that game, and recovering a fumble to help my team secure that victory. Another was playing in the Cortaca Jug game this year at Metlife Stadium in front of a record-breaking crowd of almost 50,000 fans. Every kid from the time they first strap up the shoulder pads grows up dreaming of playing on a stage like that, I was truly honored to be apart of that game. Finally, in my team’s postseason game this past weekend, I had a tackle for a loss which I felt was a sign of my growth as a defensive player, On a second and medium, our opponent threw a swing pass, I read my key, evaded a block and made the stop for a loss of five yards. This seemed like a small moment, but was one which I felt my instincts and preparation had come together to make possible.

Related: Top 5 Division III Football Stadiums

What advice do you have for high school recruits playing in an offense or defense that isn’t tailored to their skillset?
Be open-minded, learn as many skills as possible, for you never know how they may benefit your football career down the road. Also, for all high school athletes, strive to be the hardest worker in your program every single day and every single rep, this will always have a way of manifesting itself toward your success.

What’s the greatest piece of advice that a coach has given you? Who was that coach?
The best advice I’ve received from any coach came from Coach Castro, the offensive line coach here at Cortland, my freshman year. I respected him tremendously because of his love and devotion to the game of football, as well as his prowess and toughness during his playing career. I was in his office talking to him about my aspirations as a football player and a leader, and I mentioned that at the time, all I was was a third-string quarterback. He told me that leadership comes from self-belief, and inspiring others through the effort and energy you bring to every activity you take on. He said that he believed in me and saw this very potential in me. This was the first time in my athletic career that a coach had told me that they believed in me, and it motivated me and moved me to action.

Related: Coach Ratings

Going into your senior season, how have your goals changed since freshman year?
My personal goals have not changed; I want to be the hardest worker and the best player on every field I step on. I believe if you play football and do not have this mentality, you should not be playing the game. From a team perspective, I think that I have become more bought into the Cortland football culture, and the idea of leaving a mark on this program, and elevating it for future generations of players. 

What about football are you most grateful for?
I am most grateful for my teammates, and the challenges football has put me through. My teammates are my brothers, the people whom I lay it on the line for every time I touch the football field; I love them beyond expression. The game of football challenges me every day mentally, physically, and emotionally. I have had many days when football has made me depressed and made me want to give up. However, it has never made me quit and never will make me quit. I will never quit on anything in life because of the will football has given me to prove to myself every day that I poured my heart and soul into everything, and my desire to compete and win at anything I undertake. Football has taught me to have grit, the ability to finish.

If you had a personal entrance song for every game, what would it be?
I have so many that I love. It would be hard to pick one. However, hearing the national anthem right before kickoff always tells me that it’s time to play some football. 

Favorite work out/lift?
My favorite workout is either an intense leg session or conditioning. These are the moments when you learn your breaking point and how to push past it. When I have completed the allotted number of reps in a conditioning session, I always try to go “plus two” or do another rep to challenge myself. When it’s late in the game in a crucial situation, these are the reps that come in handy.

What is your go-to-meal that you like making for yourself before a big game? 
I love making something I call the monster mashup; it is a bowl of rice, sweet potatoes, ground beef or chicken, cheese, spinach, and carrots mixed together.