Robenson Therezie entered his senior season with high hopes.
After solidifying his place at Auburn’s pivotal star position — a hybrid linebacker-safety in the 4-2-5 scheme — during a breakout junior campaign, the defensive sparkplug was expecting big things in 2014.
That is until that the middle of August, two weeks before the season opener against Arkansas, when Therezie found himself in the midst of serious eligibility concerns that appeared to threaten everything he’d worked for.
"It was really devastating,” Therezie said, without getting into specifics regarding why he was deemed ineligible. “It happened, it's behind me now. It's in the past. I'm just focused on getting back to the old me.”
From the time Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn announced Therezie was working through some unspecified “eligibility issues” following a scrimmage on Aug. 16, the 5-foot-9, 200-pounder found something he couldn’t tackle.
The most worrisome problem was the unknown — not knowing when, or even if, he’d be cleared to play.
“It wasn't easy, but then again, I just knew that I had to get back pretty quick,” Therezie said. “Just knowing what I had to do in my job, it was pretty rough in the preseason. But then again, I just had to stick with one decision and keep looking forward, keep moving forward and not let anything in the past affect my performance.”
Once he was finally cleared the night before Auburn was to open the season against SEC West rival Arkansas, last season’s defensive MVP tried to focus on the future.
“Just knowing about the situation, it was, like I said, just devastating,” Therezie said. “But God blessed me and gave me another opportunity so (I was) going to take advantage of it."
Still, having not practiced as much during the two-to-three weeks he dealt with his eligibility, it was a slow process working himself back into the mix.
“I just have to keep moving forward,” Therezie said, “and getting back to the fundamentals of how I was thinking about approaching this season before that situation happened."
Especially after it appeared Auburn might have moved on, sliding junior Justin Garrett — who has since moved back to linebacker — as the starting star against Arkansas while talented true freshman Nick Ruffin was named the backup.
Therezie didn’t allow the issue to alter the way he played, making an impact in his first game when he had a game-changing play with a second-half hit on Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen that resulted in an off-target throw that senior safety Jermaine Whitehead intercepted and returned 33 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter.
“It was a great joy to find out he can play,” Whitehead said later that first week. “He’s my roommate, and it hurt him a little bit being a question he wouldn’t be able to play.
“When he’s out there you can expect something big from him. … He didn’t even get as many reps as practice as we would want him to have, but he was able to do a lot of things.”
Appearing in all seven games to this point, Therezie is seventh on the team with 21 tackles and has emerged as a bigger blitzing option, especially out of Auburn’s “cinco” dime package the team employs on third downs. Therezie also has 3.5 tackles for loss, five pass breakups and three quarterback hurries.
"It was something that fit the defensive style,” Therezie said. “Coach (Ellis Johnson) knows I like to be a part of the blitzing and just pressuring the quarterback. That's a great package that we use most often against passing teams."
When he’s not blitzing off the edge, Therezie is often lined up against the opposing team’s slot receiver or tight end, depending on the matchup, which can at times leave him on an island over the middle of the field. Nevertheless, Therezie has seen himself making progress, even if it hasn’t happened as quickly as it might have without the preseason issues.
“As far as tackling and everything else, especially zone coverage, I feel like I've gotten better at,” Therezie said. “Just, you know, playing my part and not creating a hole in the defense so that the offense can attack.”
So, while the experience of sitting out was “devastating,” the undersized defensive back hasn’t allowed the set back to slow him down, not when he knows he remains one of Auburn’s biggest playmakers on defense — even if it means making a play against a massive offensive lineman with more than 100 pounds on him.
“Everyone has a responsibility and whatever my responsibility is I just go hard at it,” Therezie said. “And (and maybe I can) cause another player (to get free) or cause something to happen. Going against those 300-pounders is really nothing to me."
Especially after the 300-pound gorilla that hung over his head in the preseason.