TAMPA — Dominique Robertson didn't know if he would join the family business. He just wanted to be his own man.
But when you are 6 feet 5, 324 pounds and unusually strong, sometimes the career chooses you.
Robertson, an undrafted free agent offensive lineman from Division II West Georgia, stood out in the Bucs' rookie minicamp this weekend. Not that he wasn't going to be recognized. His uncle George Warhop is Tampa Bay's offensive line coach.
"He's here because he's a prospect. Period,'' Warhop said of his nephew. "He's talented. I think we're very fortunate to get him as a free agent. I didn't think he would go undrafted. Unless we had a chance to draft him, I didn't think we would get him. He's earned the opportunity to be here. Now he has to earn the opportunity to be on the team.''
Growing up in Riverside, Calif., just 60 miles east of Los Angeles, Robertson really didn't talk much football with his uncle.
"I didn't want to use his name,'' Robertson said. "I wanted to build my own reputation as a football player, so I just tried to learn on my own. But when I got to a point where I thought he would be very useful for me, I started to utilize him, and it benefited me a lot.''
Robertson took the hard road to the NFL. He played at Riverside Community College and earned a scholarship to Texas Tech. But life in the south plains of Texas is far different than what Robertson experienced growing up as a California kid.
"It was like a situation where I just didn't think I fit in well there,'' Robertson said. "It was kind of like coming from California to Lubbock, it was a bit of a culture shock.
"I heard there are better places in Texas, I just think it was Lubbock.''
But Robertson wasn't ready to be done playing football, so he transferred for his senior year from Texas Tech to West Georgia, near the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
Though he towered over most opponents, Robertson worked hard and tried to dominate at the lower college level.
"I definitely wanted to show I was a competitor, even though it was Division II, I wanted to still show I was going to play hard regardless,'' Robertson said.
Funny thing about the NFL. It has a way of shaking the bushes for players.
"The key is he was able to perform,'' Warhop said. "He was able to go someplace different, find a niche, and be able to perform at a high enough level for despite only be there one year, good enough for somebody to come find him.
"He got noticed and that's what it's about. It doesn't matter where you play. If you're good enough, we'll find you.''
It's a lesson the Bucs proved last season by locating guard Ali Marpet at Hobart College, a Division III program in Senaca, N.Y. Marpet impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl and the Bucs chose him in the second round. As a rookie, he started at right guard.
This was not a case of a lamb being led to slaughter. Robertson earned an invitation to the NFL scouting combine, where he impressed scouts with his strength and athleticism. He bench pressed 225 pounds 30 times and ran the 40-yard dash in 5.36 seconds.
"I like to be physical and get my hand on them (opponents), because once I do that, it's over for them,'' Robertson said.
Bucs coach Dirk Koetter actually met Robertson at One Buc Place last season.
"He's a big, powerful man,'' Koetter said. "Obviously we had some recon on him because he's related to George. He was actually in here last year visiting George on a family matter and I got to just meet him over a weekend. It just worked out.''
Robertson was projected as a possible pick anywhere from rounds 5-7 in this year's draft. Several teams wanted to sign him as a college free agent. But his decision to join the Bucs was, well, relatively easy.
"I don't think it could get any better than this, man,'' Robertson said. "I think this was like a blessing in disguise, for real.''
Robertson projects as a guard at the NFL level, but his ability to also play tackle will be a real asset. Right now, it's expected he will be among the 90 players brought to training camp and it would seem he might have to nudge out Kevin Pamphile, who plays guard and tackle, to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.
"We're looking at him inside,'' Warhop said. "He was more of a tackle in college. He'll spin his way inside for us. He's a powerful kid. He plays a powerful game and he's got really good quickness, which is what we want inside, now we like to play and pull our guys and get them in space and that fits him.''
In fact, Robertson has probably never felt more at home.
"Man, it's beautiful,'' Robertson said. "It's kind of like euphoria. Every time I step out here and see his beautiful facility, I'm ready to go.''