Jaden Robinson walked into the office with his mom, brother and stepfather at his side. Oregon State University coach Jonathan Smith said the words that shocked them.
“He was like, ‘Jaden, we would like to offer you a full-ride scholarship,’ ” Robinson recalled.
The Auburn Riverside High School senior was stunned. His mother almost passed out.
“I was just sitting there when Coach Smith said the words – I couldn’t even hear or think,” Kashann (pronounced Cash-ann) Brown said. “He was still talking, but everything was on mute. The world was moving but I was stuck.”
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She cried more this weekend, and then even more Monday when Robinson announced he had verbally committed to play football at Oregon State for Smith, the former UW offensive coordinator. Robinson plans to sign his letter of intent on Wednesday’s National Signing Day when he can make it official.
All the obstacles, all the work, all the hardship. All of that paid off with the words “full-ride scholarship” and an opportunity to play Pac-12 college football.
It wasn’t long ago that Robinson appeared set on a path for gangs and drugs in Oakland, California. Or when his mom was getting calls every week about his behavior in school.
And it wasn’t long ago when they lived in a homeless shelter in Seattle because he, his mom and younger brother took a train and bus to Washington with nothing but a few bags and a dream of a better life.
Robinson didn’t even play football until two years ago.
“When we came here I gave up everything I knew in California for him and his brother,” Brown said before pausing to cry.
“I left everything I knew so they could have a chance. I couldn’t thank God enough. Like – man. My cousins and people his age that are still in California, they are doing or selling drugs, getting in and out of juvenile hall. I am just so thankful that I followed my mind to come here.”
Robinson gets mostly As and Bs in school these days. And he said he doesn’t get in trouble in class anymore.
He’s a three-sport standout – the 4A North Puget Sound League’s Olympic division defensive back of the year, a first-team all-league wide receiver, a second-team all-league basketball player and coming off a sixth-place finish in the 100-meter in the state track and field championships a year ago with a 10.70 personal-best.
“He had a real good year, man,” said Auburn Riverside coach Bryant Thomas, a former Washington State University football player. “He grew as a football player from Week 1 until our last game of the year. To see him have that type of growth is amazing.
“But the other part and the biggest piece to me is his maturity as a person. He grew more as a person the last year and a half than he even did as a football player.”
Robinson said he was often getting suspended in elementary school in Oakland. He just couldn’t sit still.
He said he would talk back, disrespect teachers, disrupt class with his constant moving and hang out with bad company. His dad lived about an hour-and-a-half away, and he said he regrets not having a father figure to reel him in.
“I was a bad kid in middle school and elementary school,” Robinson said.
One day, Robinson didn’t return to his class after recess.
He was in the first grade when he followed some friends out of the school and to a nearby corner store, where his mom said shootings and drug dealings were common.
Robinson and his friends went to steal some Hot Cheetos.
“I cried my eyes out because I was so scared and relieved at the same time when we found him,” Brown said. “But I said, ‘Oh, no. If you’re doing this now, I can’t imagine how it’s going to be when you’re 13 or 16.’ That was the last straw.”
She had never before lived outside the Bay Area and her sons were eight and five at the time. But she packed up her bags and planned to move to Seattle to live with her cousin for a month while saving money for their own living arrangement.
They hopped on a train and at 3 a.m. switched to a bus, her young boys lugging their six bags.
“It’s the middle of the night and I was crying, with these two small kids and all this luggage, stuff spilling out everywhere, and I remember saying, ‘God, please help me do this.’ And a guy pulls up on a golf cart and was saying, ‘Hey, do you need help getting those on the bus?’ I’m like, ‘Yes!’ ”
“My mom took me from a place with no chance and brought me to a place with a chance,” Robinson said. “We had nothing.”
But her cousin’s place wasn’t what they thought it would be and they had nowhere to stay except for an emergency shelter in Seattle.
“I knew what was going on,” Robinson said. “I just knew it was a temporary place for people who don’t have money for stuff. For people who are poor.”
But the people there helped Brown find a job, and about seven months later they moved into an apartment in Federal Way.
Brown would wake up at 4 a.m., drop her kids off at child care, take three buses to get to her job at a warehouse in Enumclaw, then work evenings as a customer service representative in Federal Way. She got Robinson a cellphone and said he had to be responsible for his little brother, Jordan.
She now drives school buses for local charter schools. They moved to Auburn because Robinson got in some more trouble at school.
One of his eighth-grade teachers whipped him into shape, he said. Jason Russell doubled as a football coach, though he now teaches at Decatur. Russell would make Robinson do push-ups in class when he wasn’t focusing.
“That was the first year I was actually like a good student,” Robinson said. “That I didn’t get in trouble for talking back or being disrespectful in class. And I haven’t got in trouble since.”
So what changed?
“It was a mental thing,” Robinson said. “I was tired of getting in trouble and my mom getting in trouble. I started to hang around kids who weren’t as popular, but weren’t getting in trouble. That’s what changed me to be who I am today. I started getting on the right path and playing sports, too.”
And his mom sat him down for a heart-to-heart. She could see he had the ability to excel in school, if he just tried.
“I wanted him to know that it’s OK to be smart,” she said. “It’s OK to not have the hottest shoes. It’s OK to not be with the in-crowd. Really. He goes to school, he gets good grades, he goes to practice, goes to games, goes to work (he works at a movie theater) and he comes home.”
But Robinson only played basketball.
At least, until he tried out for football his sophomore year. Auburn Riverside’s offensive coordinator Marcus Yzaguirre stopped Robinson in the school hallways. He persuaded Robinson to throw on some shoulder pads and use that blazing speed out on the turf and out on the track for Yzaguirre’s track and field team.
Robinson was hesitant at first. And his mom didn’t want him playing a violent sport like football. But they decided before the fall of the next school year to give it a shot.
“You can find 6-foot guards (basketball) all over the country,” Thomas said. “But the 6-foot-1 kid who has the ability to run as fast as he runs — you can’t find on too many football fields.”
So Robinson, who is listed at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, went from watching football as a freshman, playing predominately junior varsity as a sophomore to now heading to the Pac-12 as a defensive back. He was considering offers from Eastern Washington, Portland State and Idaho before visiting Oregon State and earning a scholarship offer this past week.
“That definitely doesn’t happen often,” Thomas said. “But it’s a testament to who he is, who his family is and how hard he’s worked to get to where he’s at right now. You have a diamond in the rough that hasn’t been polished yet. He’s got the speed, the quickness but just doesn’t have the background to play the position he plays, yet.”
Though, Robinson went from two interceptions and three touchdowns all of last year in his first season of varsity football, to getting two interceptions and two touchdowns in his first game as a senior.
He led the 4A NPSL Olympic with seven interceptions while also finishing with 670 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, helping Auburn Riverside reached the 4A district playoffs before losing to last year’s state champion, Camas.
“As a junior, if you watched his film, you wouldn’t have said that is a Pac-12 kid,” Thomas said. “But he has gotten so much better. It’s been a blessing for him and a blessing to have him in our program. He’s a kid who we can point to and say, ‘Look where you can go.’ ”
And he meant that for more than just what can happen on a football field.
“We all dream of things, but you never know if they are going to become a reality,” Brown said. “To see it happening – I can’t even put it into words. I can’t. I just keep crying and telling him how proud I am of him. It takes my breath away.
“I know as his mom that this is what Jaden is supposed to do. From the time he could hold a ball – football, basketball, whatever – he just had this energy. It just feels like it was all God’s plan.”
Robinson couldn’t think of how else to describe it.
“It’s just crazy,” he said.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677