The Kentucky Wildcats’ 2016 in-state recruiting haul is heavy on big personalities.
In media interactions, Mr. Football Kash Daniel has the pizzazz of a budding WWE star. Ex-Woodford County lineman Drake Jackson is as polished as a network TV morning show anchor. By virtue of being assigned that magical fifth recruiting star, Lafayette standout Landon Young is a figure of immense local interest.
Then there is Henry Clay defensive back Davonte Robinson. He (along with McCracken County standout Zy’Aire Hughes) is the quiet man of UK’s 2016 in-state recruits.
“I’m more like the background guy,” Robinson said last week at Henry Clay.
On Wednesday, the first day of college football’s national letter-of-intent period, Robinson will have a signing ceremony at 2:45 p.m. at Henry Clay High School.
Despite schools such as Notre Dame, Louisville and, at the last minute, Georgia making a run at his services, Robinson, a 6-foot-1, 189-pound defensive back, will honor the commitment he made to Mark Stoops and Kentucky in October of 2014.
“Lot of schools tried to come in but Davonte kept his word to Coach Stoops and UK,” Derek Robinson said of his son.
Though Davonte is a lifelong Lexingtonian, the football team he rooted for as a child wore Alabama red, not Kentucky blue.
By the time Robinson was a freshman in high school, his dad said the player expressed doubts that any big school would ever offer him a football scholarship.
“I remember telling him, ‘Davonte, you have to do something big to get those big schools to notice you,’” Derek Robinson said. “I told him ‘Nick Saban isn’t sitting in his office throwing darts to decide if he’s going to come up to Lexington, Kentucky, and look for players. You’ve got to do something to bring coaches to you.’ And that’s when I told him he needed to rely on his speed.”
You might say Davonte Robinson is engineered for speed.
His father, Derek, was a state champion sprinter who led Lafayette to the 1985 Class 3A state track championship. Davonte and his older brother, DeQuan, have each won individual state championships as sprinters for Henry Clay and led the Blue Devils to the 3A team state title last spring.
Davonte can pinpoint the exact moment when he felt UK got serious about recruiting him. It came about because of his speed, of course.
“I went to their camp my sophomore year,” he said. “I ran my 40 times and, after that, they offered me.”
What did Robinson run in the 40-yard dash that so got Kentucky’s attention?
“I ran 4.29 hand-timed, 4.34 laser (-timed),” he said.
Robinson still laughs about Kentucky assistant coach Vince Marrow’s reaction to that blazing-fast 40-yard dash. “Coach Marrow was like ‘This can’t be right. It can’t be right,’” he said.
Not long after, on a day when Robinson was making an unofficial recruiting visit to UK, he was summoned to Stoops’ office.
“He offered me (a scholarship) then,” Robinson said of the Kentucky head coach. “I was stunned. I didn’t even say anything.”
When Robinson got home, he told his mom, Tara Lancaster, what had happened. “My mom, she doesn’t really do sports, but she was pretty happy,” he said.
In October of his junior year at Henry Clay, Robinson made a verbal commitment to play football for Kentucky. Once he publicly pledged to be a Wildcat, Robinson said he felt like a marked man.
“To me, it felt like there was more pressure because everyone was, like, targeting me because I was some kind of big shot,” he said. “Everybody was trying to prove me wrong. I was more protecting myself than anything.”
Robinson said his response to feeling that additional pressure was to push himself harder.
“I practiced harder than I’ve ever practiced,” he said. “I work with a trainer, Willie Ray, and he pushed me. He’s like, ‘You’ve got a target on your back. Someone could be gunning for you. Anyone can take your spot.’”
As a senior last fall for Coach Sam Simpson’s Blue Devils (7-5), Robinson played like a guy with something to prove.
He made 91 tackles, picked off a pass, forced a fumble and blocked three kicks. Offensively, Robinson ran for 432 yards and five touchdowns and caught seven passes for 110 yards and two TDs. Against city rival Tates Creek, he returned a kickoff 91 yards for a score.
Robinson played a lot of safety in high school, but said UK projects him as a cornerback.
Though the Henry Clay star will enter UK in a class filled with big, in-state personalities, he’s quietly confident he will stand out in Wildcat blue.
“My actions show on the field,” he said.