FARGO — Former North Dakota State fullback Brock Robbins said the ingested supplement that ended his Bison football career was supplied by somebody within the program and he had no idea it contained a banned substance.
His mother, Lori Robbins, said a “trusted program staff member” provided a pre-workout powder that contained an illegal substance or substances.
The university denies the supplement came from a staff member.
NDSU athletic director Matt Larsen said Robbins “got it from another student-athlete.” He didn't elaborate.
Robbins tested positive to a random NCAA drug test during his team’s Division I FCS national title run. He said the substance in question was mixed into a drink and taken before practice or a game to help energize his body.
“I was completely shocked,” Robbins said about failing the drug test. “I hadn’t been doing anything to my knowledge that was anything wrong.”
Robbins declined to identify a specific name or names of who supplied the powder. His parents, Chuck and Lori Robbins, said they’re leaving that decision to their son. But Lori Robbins expressed her disappointment with the program.
“It’s all out there that Brock tested positive for a stimulant and that’s true,” she said. “That is a true statement. But nobody is saying, ‘Where did you get it?’ These guys bringing it in that gives you a little energy, whatever it is, and Brock doesn’t think twice about it. Other players don’t think twice about it. And then this happens. You reel from it. This ruined him as far as his career goes. I mean, he’s healthy, he’s got everything and football isn’t life, however, it’s all gone. … Brock took it and he has to bear some responsibility, but does he have to bear it all? No. But he has to pay for the whole thing.”
Larsen said the NDSU athletic department does not provide supplements.
“The only thing we do is through our fueling station,” he said of a nutrition center located in the Sanford Health Athletic Complex. “It’s all natural, whether it’s snacks, smoothies, those kind of things. But we don’t provide supplements.”
Contacted again on NDSU’s response that a student-athlete provided the substance, Lori Robbins said, “That is extremely incorrect. It was a product that was brought in by a trusted staff member.”
Attempts on Tuesday and Wednesday to reach former Bison head coach Chris Klieman, now at Kansas State, were unsuccessful.
The NCAA penalty calls for a one-year suspension, meaning Robbins — a junior — won’t be able to play next season. It’s possible he could transfer to an NAIA school for his final year of eligibility, something that is still a possibility since NAIA schools, who are not bound by NCAA rules, have contacted him about transferring. But for now, he’s going to school at NDSU this semester and is scheduled to graduate with a degree in general agriculture next December.
Robbins said he wants people to know he did not intentionally take an illegal supplement.
“Just basically the fact that when people hear this, they think steroids or marijuana,” Brock said. “That’s the reason we want the story out.”
He said he first started taking the supplement about halfway through the 2018 season. It seemed routine, he said, since he’s taken dietary aids dating back to high school in Cavalier, N.D.
Energy drinks mixed with protein and carbohydrate powders are common with athletes. They’re usually associated with helping the body’s muscles recover more quickly after strenuous workouts. They’re available in most retail or food stores.
“You can’t get this specific one at Walmart or anything, but it’s a basic ‘pre-workout,’” Brock said.
Lori Robbins said she believes the Bison staff member in question didn’t know the true nature of the supplement, but said it should have been tested by the university.
“I can take it if Brock did this on his own, but he didn’t,” she said. “He didn’t know a thing. And he trusted, he really trusted those people and it cost him. It really did cost him. And I thank God a bunch of those kids didn’t get pulled in (for random testing) because it was used throughout the locker room.”
Lori (Knetter) Robbins was NDSU’s first women’s basketball All-American, is still the program’s all-time leading rebounder and is a member of the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame. Brock is the youngest of three boys, with the other two also having been college athletes.
“Brock lost everything and I knew the institution would not suffer from this, not in public,” Lori said, with her voice breaking. “Everybody that knows Brock …”
NDSU appealed the suspension to the NCAA, but it was denied two days before the FCS national title game against Eastern Washington on Jan. 5 in Frisco, Texas. Lori Robbins said the appeal was largely based on her son’s lack of knowledge of the supplement that she said was supplied by somebody at the university.
She calls the penalty “too harsh,” especially for first-time offenders.
“He knew he was taking a ‘pre-workout’ and that’s all he knew,” she said. “(The NCAA) doesn’t see it that way. It’s black and white. So there’s no wiggle room, and that’s unfortunate because I think there’s extenuating circumstances that were involved here, and I don’t think he has complete blame on this. They brought it into the locker room, they told their kids to take it.”
Klieman addressed the issue in the post-game press conference after the 38-24 championship win over Eastern Washington. When he was asked why Robbins wasn’t dressed for the game, he acknowledged it was because of a banned stimulant.
“Feel awful for Brock,” Klieman said. “Everybody in that locker room loves Brock. Brock was a part of this national championship and that’s what happened.”
The NCAA randomly tests approximately 18 players from each team after each FCS playoff game. Specifically, the NCAA, according to its website, lists the banned “drug classes” as anabolic agents, stimulants, masking agents such as diuretics, street drugs, peptide hormones and analogues, anti-estrogens and Beta-2 Agonists.
The NCAA, on its website, makes it clear “There is NO complete list of banned substances.” It states “Any substance that is chemically related to the class, even if it is not listed as an example, is also banned!”
NDSU also does its own random internal testing with the football program throughout the season, using the same company — Drug Free Sport International — the NCAA uses in its testing. New NDSU head football coach Matt Entz said Robbins’ situation was addressed in Entz's first team meeting as the Bison head coach, telling the players to make sure they know what they’re putting in their bodies.
Teams losing players to NCAA drug testing has been common in recent years. Clemson was without three players in its College Football Playoff title game last month. Before the 2016 FCS title game, James Madison had seven players test positive and Youngstown State had four players test positive.
The 6-foot-1, 248-pound Robbins was a major part of the Bison offense. He was used in multiple ways, either as a tight end or fullback. The latter is mostly a blocking position in NDSU’s West Coast offense, but Robbins had five carries for 31 yards and caught eight passes, including one touchdown, last season.
His absence in the title game was notable.
“He could have had a great senior year,” Lori said. “Maybe there’s the next level, who knows. The coaches thought so.”