DeRhon Robinson strode along the sidelines last Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., with just a touch of the swagger of Escamillo, the toreador who struts through the gypsy camp in Carmen. The Citadel's 6'2", 285-pound offensive guard was exulting over the Bulldogs' 38-35 whipping of South Carolina, an in-state rival The Citadel, a Division I-AA school, had not beaten since 1950. Robinson didn't look anything like a choirboy, and he certainly hadn't played like a choirboy as the Bulldogs' wishbone offense piled up 396 yards against the nation's fourth-ranked defense, but believe it: He is a choirboy, an occasional soloist with The Citadel Gospel Choir.
Robinson's voice is as big as his Wurlitzer-sized frame. He has sung arias in recitals, jingles in Coke commercials, and America, the Beautiful at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. He has performed in choruses abroad: in London, Tokyo and at the American Cathedral in Paris, where he held a low G for 20 seconds when the conductor forgot to cut him off. "That note went on forever," Robinson recalls. "I got so out of breath, I felt like I was blocking downfield for a fullback. I was waiting for the conductor to either score or get tackled by somebody."
DeRhon's name was given to him by his father, a minister. "De is French for 'of,' " DeRhon explains. "Dad figured DeRhon would mean 'of Ron.' "
By the time DeRhon was nine he had made the Atlanta Boy Choir and was able to give a good account of himself on the organ, piano, drums and trumpet. Although he was All-State in band and chorus—but not football—at the Northside School of Performing Arts, Robinson turned down music scholarships to the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music and to Howard University. "Miss Dobbs told me I sounded like Paul Robeson," he says. Praise from Mattiwilda Dobbs deserves to be treasured. She is a much-admired, much-beloved professor at Howard's Department of Music and a former soprano with the Metropolitan Opera.
Robinson's singing voice flows along on a stream of orotund vowels, but when he's kneeling at the line of scrimmage, his bass baritone takes on the menacing tones of Darth Vader. Upending linebackers, he says, gives him the same heady feeling as hitting a high D. "DeRhon flattens defenders with a big thud," says teammate J.J. Davis. "It's not a musical thud, but it does leave a little ringing in your ears."
Bulldog line coach Jeff Bleamer boasts he has the only player in the world who can sing Mozart's Requiem while executing a perfect trap block. "I mean, don't get me wrong, Pavarotti's got the size," says Bleamer, "but has he ever played the wishbone?"
When he's not on the gridiron, Robinson usually behaves like a choirboy.