The three-sport star for the Ravens is headed to Oregon State to play football.
The wrong path led Jaden Robinson to the best decision in his young life.
At age 6, he and a friend wanted some Hot Cheetos. So they hopped a fence, walked to the corner store and grabbed a bag. Never mind the boys were supposed to be in their first-grade class, didn’t have any money and were in a store known for drug dealings and shootings.
Once Kashann Brown found her son that evening at the school, she knew it was time to leave Oakland, Calif. With just $800, a dozen suitcases and no place to live, she moved her family of three to Seattle to start fresh in a safer environment.
“He was already hanging with the wrong crowd and that scared me into making a change,” said Brown, who moved with her sons to Broadview Emergency Shelter. “It was hard. I was working two jobs and had to give him a cellphone at age 8 because he was also responsible for his brother after school. This was foreign to me, but for my boys, it didn’t matter. I’ll do anything for them.”
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The sacrifice worked. Still headstrong, Robinson grew to become a studious three-sport star at Auburn Riverside. After being named the Defensive MVP of the North Puget Sound League’s Olympic Division for football and second-team for basketball, Robinson placed in the top three in three Class 4A track events in May and set a school record.
For his accomplishments, Robinson is The Seattle Times’ Male Athlete of the Year.
“This is something that Jaden built himself,” said Brown, who is estranged from Robinson’s father. “He’s the one that has been self-determined, self-trained, self-everything. He could barely walk as a baby and was trying to lift up the couch. He always thought he was so strong and fast and grown. It was crazy. I told him recently that, ‘Now you’re everything you always thought you were.’ ”
Not quite. Robinson’s original dream was being the next Kobe Bryant. He always had a basketball in hand and refused to consider other sports.
“Then I realized I was not tall enough,” said Robinson, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound defensive back.
At the urging of then-assistant coach Marcus Yzaguirre, Robinson joined the football team his sophomore year. Yzaguirre, who also coached the boys basketball and girls track and field teams, insisted Robinson run the three sprint events — the 100, 200, and 400 meters — to help have a yearlong focus on classwork and training.
Robinson obliged, and as a senior he placed second at state in the 200 in a school-record 21.89 seconds. He was third in the 100 (10.98) and ran a personal-best 49.66 in placing third in the 400.
Robinson, a Star Times selection in football, had six interceptions.
“He was a natural,” said Yzaguirre, who in May replaced Bryant Thomas as Riverside’s football coach. “And he had no clue he was going to be good in football or track. He just kind of figured it out and believed in what we were telling him.”
Robinson caught the eye of Oregon State and was offered a scholarship during his official visit to the campus in February. To help prepare him for a hectic college life, his mother made Robinson get a job. He balanced working at a movie theater with school and sports.
“The biggest improvement that I’ve seen is his maturity and selflessness,” said Thomas, who’s now the football coach at Kamiak. “Two years ago, he was all about me, me, me. So, yeah, he has athletic ability, but when you add the maturity piece, that’s when you get someone special. Jaden is special.”
From the womb, his mother knew. It was just a matter of getting him and his brother on the right path to reach their potential. Looking back, the Cheetos run was the best mistake Robinson could make.
“We laugh about it now,” he said. “I’ve surprised myself considering what I’ve been through. But at the same time, all of my coaches were telling me I could play at this level if I kept working at it. And it’s really happening.”