Wandale Robinson — one of the most highly touted football players in the state — was out on the Western Hills practice field with his teammates Wednesday evening, bouncing around with the ball in his hands and clearly enjoying himself as the Wolverines prepared for a home date with Woodford County.
There were no college coaches, no video cameras, no fans cheering him on from the sidelines. These days, the space between those lines is one of the few places Robinson doesn’t get asked about what’s next.
“Really, whenever I get out here, I stop thinking about all of that,” he said. “Being out here with my teammates, that’s really the good time that I get to get away from all that, without all the questions of, ‘Where are you going?’ and, ‘When are you going to decide?’ and stuff like that.”
Once the post-practice huddle broke, Robinson grabbed his helmet and jogged off the field, a big smile on his face as he crossed the white line, where he knew more of the same questions would be waiting for him.
Robinson — a 5-foot-9, 175-pound prospect in his senior year at Western Hills — is the No. 3 all-purpose running back nationally in the class of 2019, according to 247Sports. All of the major recruiting services rank him as a four-star player, and his numbers this season tell the story.
In just four games, Robinson has rushed 71 times for 813 yards and nine touchdowns. He has six catches for 223 yards and four more scores. He’s had three chances at punt returns, totaling 161 yards on those attempts and scoring twice, including a 96-yarder last week.
Robinson is doing it all this season. He’s hoping that continues when he gets to college.
“I want to play running back and receiver,” he said. “Being able to play both and being able to just be versatile and make plays in the return game, as well. … I just want to do kind of everything in the offense wherever I go.
“Really everywhere that I’ve been to, they’re telling me things I want to hear.”
His list of suitors is as impressive as his stats.
Robinson’s final six schools include Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska, Purdue, and, of course, Kentucky, which has made the local star a major priority as the Cats look to finish out their 2019 class.
He said he gets asked where he’s going at least five times a day. “I still don’t know yet,” is the common response. Robinson hasn’t ruled out any of his six finalists, but there is a frontrunner as he heads into the final weeks of his recruitment.
“As of right now, Nebraska is probably my leader. And then everybody else, it’s really close,” Robinson said. “Everybody has a chance as of right now. I’m not set on anybody. I haven’t ruled anybody out. That’s just, as of right now, that’s who I believe is my leader.”
He took his official visit to Lincoln during the first weekend of the college season. Weather ultimately canceled the Cornhuskers’ opener, but he already felt like he’d be a good fit for new head coach Scott Frost’s offense, and Robinson gained a greater understanding and appreciation for the history behind that storied program while he was there.
“I really liked it,” he said. “I didn’t really get the tradition side of everything until I got out there. And really just seeing all those fans and how crazy they are about football. Just seeing everything they have to offer. I didn’t think it would be anything like it was. I just thought it would be a bunch of fields and just nothing out there. But they really have a lot to offer.”
He clearly has a tough decision to make.
Robinson took an official visit to Michigan over the summer, heads to Alabama for an official visit this weekend, and has already attended games this fall at Purdue, Ohio State and Kentucky.
He had nothing but good things to say about all six schools on his list.
There’s probably not a team recruiting him harder than Kentucky.
The Cats have a solid class for 2019 — it’s ranked No. 40 nationally — but they have just one four-star prospect in that group: defensive back and UK legacy Moses Douglass.
The program’s message to Robinson is simple.
“Really just being the headliner of the class, if I was to join,” he said. “And then obviously me being from Kentucky, I would be a homegrown guy, and obviously after football, I’ll have a life that most people don’t with everybody knowing who you are and stuff like that.”
That’s something that appeals to the affable high school star.
“Oh, yeah, definitely,” he said. “Knowing that everybody will know who I am and know that I played at Kentucky and I’ll be able to go just about anywhere and somebody will know who I am, that obviously is something that’s really, really good to me.”
John Schlarman started UK’s recruitment of Robinson, and Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow have now taken over the bulk of the Cats’ efforts. They were both at Western Hills last Friday to meet with Robinson before his game. Stoops stuck around town to watch him go for 365 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns — including that 96-yard punt return — in a 41-23 victory at Frankfort.
“I saw him at the game, and I just had to make a couple plays for him, you know,” Robinson said with a laugh. Stoops texted after the game. “He was just really, really impressed,” he said.
And UK’s efforts have made an impression on Robinson, especially the relationship he’s formed with Marrow, who’s long been known for his recruiting efforts in Ohio and is now taking on a larger role with in-state prospects.
Marrow reaches out on a daily basis, but he’s not pushy about it.
“He’s really kind of become like a father to me,” Robinson said. “He’s really just been that guy that, during the recruiting process, he hasn’t really been harping on me or anything. I mean, obviously, he really wants me to come there. But he hasn’t been like really hard on me.”
UK is telling Robinson he could fill in next season for David Bouvier, the senior wide receiver who was the talk of fall camp and leads the Cats with two touchdown receptions. The Kentucky coaches have also compared him to Lynn Bowden, the sophomore sensation who leads the team with 17 catches and 185 yards and is used as that multi-tool offensive threat that Robinson hopes to be in college.
The winning doesn’t hurt either.
Robinson was in the stands for last weekend’s victory over Murray State and was keeping tabs on the Cats during their streak-ending upset at Florida the week before.
“Getting that big win against Florida, after 31 years, that’s obviously something knowing that they’re moving in the right direction,” he said. “And I would love to be a part of that, too.”
UK fans — and supporters of the other five schools on Robinson’s list — will get his answer soon enough. He’s planning to visit either Kentucky or Ohio State for his fifth and final official visit — a trip that will take place either next weekend or the weekend of Oct. 6 — and then he’ll take a week or two to think about, talk to his family, and announce a college decision sometime in October.
“Just where I feel the most comfortable and where I know I can be happy for four years is where I’ll be at.”