'He Will Be a Hero to a Lot of People'

Meet Bijan Robinson, the record-breaking running back recruit who could save Texas football—if the Longhorns can keep his commitment.
photo of Adam KramerAdam Kramer@kegsneggsNational College Football Lead WriterTUCSON, Ariz.December 12, 2019

This is a story about numbers.

Unbelievable, implausible numbers.

Numbers so mind-boggling that you start to wonder whether Bijan Robinson, perhaps the most exciting high school football player in the 2020 class, is capable of resurrecting one of college football's most storied programs all by his lonesome.

Start with the number six. Maybe not immediately impressive, that was the number of yards Robinson picked up on his first carry of one game this fall. The reaction to the six yards told you what you needed to know, though. The opposing team cheered after bringing Robinson down at the 7-yard line. They embraced one another. Holding this senior running back from Salpointe Catholic to only six yards, on even one carry, was a victory. And the Sahuaro High players celebrated accordingly as the sun dipped behind the mountains.

Who could blame them? Robinson entered the evening averaging more than 25 yards per carry. But for one play, they were up for him.

The very next handoff, though? Robinson showed why he's perhaps the most decorated player in Arizona high school history, slicing through the line and into the end zone. He didn't say a word, and he never does no matter what is said to him on a football field. He just handed the ball to the official and trotted off. His family and friends, seated at the 50-yard line wearing black T-shirts with "Bijan" written in white cursive on the front and the No. 5 and his last name on the back, enjoyed the moment on his behalf.

His third carry went for 60 yards, putting him back close to his season average. Robinson's second touchdown came a few minutes later, still in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, he would break the all-time 4A rushing record with more than half his senior season still to play. He followed with another touchdown. Then a long reception. Then a long kickoff return—his second of the night. Then another score.

With seconds remaining in the first half and Salpointe Catholic comfortably ahead, Robinson lined up at wideout for what amounted to a Hail Mary. He skied over the defensive backs, lifting his 6-foot, 205-pound body skyward, catching the ball and falling into the end zone as he landed.

Standing on the sideline, a running backs coach from a Power Five program let out audible laughter. Robinson is verbally committed to Texas, a team that desperately needs him, but that isn't stopping schools from trying to change his mind before he officially signs in late December or early February.

Photo courtesy of Andy Morales

Robinson scored five touchdowns and accounted for 299 all-purpose yards, all before halftime, when his night was over with the game in hand.

The running backs coach, knowing this, made a call as he headed toward his car.

 "I just watched the best running back in the country play," he said. "What are you doing?"

This is a story about a young man with an amazing smile. A smile so big and bright that his mother appropriately nicknamed him "Smiley" when he was young.

Three hours before that game against Sahuaro High, Robinson was living up to his name. He was happy and energetic and immune to the hysteria that seemingly surrounds his every move.

He wore a black USC pullover, which might seem odd given his Texas commitment. But it was not a fashion statement. It was a teenager who fell in love with Reggie Bush and the Trojans at a young age simply grabbing something from his closet.

His grandfather, Cleo Robinson, who has been influential in raising Robinson, has been a Pac-12 official for more than three decades. He witnessed Bush's greatness up close on a handful of occasions.

By age one, Robinson had a Nerf football glued to his hand. By age five, he was glued to the printed football programs his grandfather would bring him from the games he had officiated.

Photos courtesy of LaMore Sauls

By age 10, Robinson found the end zone for the first time. The wrong end zone. On his first two carries in peewee football, he ran the wrong direction and scored for the other team. He hasn't stopped putting up numbers since.

That brings us back to the numbers. They are outrageous. As a senior, Robinson carried the ball 126 times for 2,235 yards. He wasn't able to maintain the ridiculous 25-yards-per-carry average that he had in that October game. But he finished the year averaging nearly 18—and rushed for 38 touchdowns. Nearly one-third of his carries resulted in scores.

Robinson added 314 yards receiving on only 12 catches (26.2 average) and three more touchdowns. He also returned four kickoffs—the only times the opposing team was brave enough to kick to him—scoring once and totaling 238 yards (59.5 average). His performance earned him Gatorade Arizona High School Football Player of the Year honors.

"I thought we defended him really well his junior year, and he still ran for almost 200 yards," says Jose Lucero, the coach of Desert Edge High School in Goodyear, Arizona. As a senior, Robinson rushed for 430 yards and six touchdowns on only 13 carries against Desert Edge.

"You can be in the right spot and at the right time," Lucero adds. "But he's such a talented athlete that he has the ability to make one or two guys miss."

In four years, Robinson accumulated 7,036 rushing yards—more than any Arizona running back in the history of 4A through 6A conferences. He averaged more than 13 yards per carry for his high school career, accounting for a state-record 114 touchdowns.

Photo courtesy of LaMore Sauls

"I haven't seen a player his size who can cut back, start and stop and then accelerate in the second level the way he does," says Justin Argraves, the coach at Tucson High Magnet School, who watched Robinson rush for 282 yards on only eight carries this fall. "I pulled him aside after our last game, and I told him he's the best I've seen in 19 years of coaching. Hands down."

This is a story that was almost never written. A story that nearly ended in a Northwest Medical Center delivery room 17 years ago. A story about a child who came into the world "as blue as the sky," his mother, LaMore Sauls, recalls.

Bijan wasn't breathing when he was born. Doctors attempted to revive him, but seconds went by without a response. Then minutes.

The family prayed for a miracle amid the unspeakable. His mother remembers one specific doctor entering the room. This was not another person who had come to revive her son. This was a doctor who had been sent to their room with the purpose of delivering the most difficult news imaginable if it came to that. But it never did.

"My mother just walked over and just touched his little chest," LaMore says. "And all of a sudden, Bijan just screamed and cried. He really has a true God-given purpose."

He was given the name Bijan. The original pronunciation was BYE-jan, although he has taken to and prefers BEE-zhahn.

Photo courtesy of LaMore Sauls

"It's actually a Persian name," his mother says. "It means hero.

"I really feel like he will be a hero to a lot of people."

This is a story about 4,000 text messages, most of which still sit unread on a cellphone. Some from friends. Some from coaches. Most from perfect strangers.

Originally, this past summer, Robinson committed to Ohio State. Then he decommitted. It was then and there, as his phone exploded, he learned the weight he has to carry.

As thousands of text messages poured in, he saw a glimpse of both the good and the bad that comes with stardom. The many coaches hoping Robinson would consider them. The many fans of those coaches' schools hoping he'll do the same. The countless others shattered by the news that the star running back didn't pick their school. The friends and family who reached out to offer their support regardless.

Robinson's first scholarship offer came from Arizona when he was a freshman. From there, the letters and inquiries began to flow in daily. Offers from Alabama and LSU and Ohio State and Texas followed shortly after.

He had visits from Brian Kelly, Herm Edwards, Lincoln Riley and other CFB elites. After a while, it seemed like a new coach was showing up at Salpointe Catholic to speak with him each day.

Texas felt right. Austin felt right. The coaching staff felt right. While USC and Ohio State and LSU had plenty to offer, there was a comfort they simply couldn't match.


"All the people there are just genuine people," Robinson says. "There was no fakeness at all.

"And they need a running back. But this is a lot bigger than football. This is about what you can use football for."

This is a story about a young man who once missed the team bus.

Not because he was late. But because after an away game, there were so many children who wanted an autograph or a photo or both, that the rest of the Salpointe Catholic football team left him behind. A school administrator ultimately drove him home.

Instead of using his social media to post updates on his recruiting, Robinson uses his Instagram account to post scripture on Sundays. He wasn't sure what the response would be when he started the weekly ritual. But when people began to reach out to share their gratitude, he made it a habit.

Robinson has handed out clothing to the homeless—something he did this year at Reid Park with a friend. They brought four giant bags of clothing, soap and other toiletries. Some of those in attendance recognized his face from the paper.

"It was crazy to see what they go through every day," Robinson says. "We talked about football, and really about just life. I really enjoyed doing it."

"I know I have a platform, but I want to use it for the better, to help people," Robinson says. "I'm not like LeBron James, but I can use the platform I have to help people out and make people happy. Make them smile."

Before school one day, Robinson spent nearly an hour with a man he had never met who was receiving dialysis. The meeting happened organically. Robinson's aunt met this man, Ronnie, by chance. When he discovered she was related to Robinson, having followed the running back since he was a freshman in high school, he was star-struck.

When Robinson found out, he told his aunt he wanted to go visit. The two spent that morning together while Ronnie received treatment.

"This is why I play football—because people like this," Robinson says. "Because for so many, it's bigger than football."

This is a story about a young man who still has a decision to make.

Technically, that decision has already been made. Robinson verbally committed in August to play football next year at Texas at a time when the program desperately needs 5-star talent.

Bijan Robinson @Bijan5Robinson


But given the Longhorns' 2020 struggles—a 7-5 regular season that sputtered near its conclusion—the recruiting world has impatiently waited for him to change his mind.

Staff changes at Texas have only added to this speculation. Head coach Tom Herman recently demoted his offensive coordinator and fired his passing game coordinator. This, coupled with college football's early signing period that will begin December 18, has added a level of hysteria to a recruitment that was already chock full of it.

An hour after the coaching decisions were made, Herman spoke to Robinson about how they could positively impact him. He also assured him that Stan Drayton, the team's running backs coach and Robinson's primary recruiter, wasn't going anywhere.

"College football is better when Texas is good," Robinson says. "Trying to get them back to the top is my mindset. I mean, I could go to Ohio State or LSU or a team that's already enjoying great success. But getting Texas back to where it needs to be is what my focus is."

Soon, the hysteria will finally end. Robinson will make his decision official, putting to bed a recruitment that still has a nation curious. After that, if his commitment holds, he will be asked to lift a struggling, proud program back to a place of promise.

The autograph and photograph requests won't suddenly end. Neither will the text messages. If anything, by next fall, there will be more interest in the back.

With that will come opportunity. A new city to share his smile with. More people to reach. More lives to impact. More chances to use football as a means to make a difference.

And, undoubtedly, more numbers.

Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.