While 60,000 or so fans roared their approval after BYU cornerback Jakob Robinson soared high to snag an interception in the end zone against Sam Houston in the opener, his father by way of adoption could only hold his breath and worry.

“Get up,” Eric Robinson pleaded from the stands at LaVell Edwards Stadium. “Please get up.”

“From the time Jakob was little, in fourth grade, he was catching deep passes over his head. It was pretty obvious that he was special, had some special skills at football. Even though he was smaller, he was a fighter, a battler, on offense, defense and special teams.” — Eric Robinson, father of BYU DB Jakob Robinson

Memories from about 22 months ago, when Jakob couldn’t quite get to his feet after making a big play, came flooding back to the elder Robinson. All was well this time, however, as Jakob jumped to his feet and celebrated with his teammates.

He was fine, and a bit later came up with another pick to seal the Cougars’ 14-0 win over the Bearkats.

“I didn’t know if he would be able to get up from that first interception in one piece,” Eric Robinson said later. “He is such a tough little dude, though, I probably shouldn’t have worried.”

Against USC on Nov. 27, 2021, the same night that tight end Isaac Rex suffered a devastating ankle injury, Jakob Robinson also suffered a major injury in the fourth quarter that would cause him to miss BYU’s appearance in the Independence Bowl a month later.

“He will never admit it if he does get hurt, unless he’s got a broken rib sticking out of his chest like he did at USC,” Eric recalled. “He’s OK from that, but every time I look at the replay from that it almost makes me kind of sick.”

A fourth-year junior from Orem, Robinson not only returned in 2022 to emerge as one of the top playmakers in the BYU secondary, he totaled 34 tackles and an interception. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound cornerback now has six picks in his career, and 16 pass breakups.

“I just go out there and try to have a big game no matter what,” he said the week after his two-interception game. “I just believe in myself, believe in my coaches.”

Eric Robinson isn’t surprised, either.

“From the time Jakob was little, in fourth grade, he was catching deep passes over his head. It was pretty obvious that he was special, had some special skills at football,” Eric said. “Even though he was smaller, he was a fighter, a battler, on offense, defense and special teams.”

Robinson and his teammates in a BYU secondary that has emerged as a strength of the defense will be tested mightily this week, as the Cougars (2-0) travel to Fayetteville, Arkansas, to take on the Razorbacks (2-0) at 5:30 p.m. MDT on ESPN2.

‘A great blessing to our family’

For Robinson, the outstanding start to the 2023 season is the next step to what he hopes will be the NFL along a path that started in a hospital room in Ogden, Utah, when Eric and Janee Robinson adopted him some 22 years ago.

“So I am actually Black and Vietnamese,” he says of his ethnicity. “My birth dad was Black and my birth mom was full Vietnamese, adopted herself from Vietnam to a family in Montana.”

Jakob’s birth mother now lives in Miami and he stays in touch with her through text messages and direct messages on social media.

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The Robinsons were in the birthing room in Ogden when Jakob was born, and Eric called the experience life-changing and rewarding. He continues to send videos of Jakob’s exploits on the football field — such as the big interception against the Bearkats — so his birth mother can keep tabs from afar.

“She went through all the parents who were wanting to adopt babies and selected us,” Eric said. “We are so glad she did. Jakob is an amazing boy. He is kind and loving. He is just a good, good person. He’s been a great blessing to us and our family. He has entertained us for a long time in many ways.”

Growing up in Orem, the Robinsons were in the same church congregation as former BYU linebacker great Kyle Van Noy, who was also adopted.

“Kyle Van Noy and (former BYU receiver) Ross Apo were in my parents’ ward,” Jakob said. “They were idols of mine. I thought it was cool that Kyle was adopted because I was, too.”

Reuniting with BYU safety Ethan Slade

That Orem High now has one-half of BYU’s starting secondary is quite remarkable. Fellow former Tiger Ethan Slade moved into a starting safety role when Micah Harper and Talan Alfrey sustained major injuries in fall camp.

Eric Robinson said the friends are the same age and grew up competing with and against each other. Their parents often had to tell them to tone it down a bit, even when they were in the fourth grade.

“They were really intense. Jakob and Ethan Slade were in the same class and those two, when they were playing baseball, if they struck out they would come in and they were so upset they would throw their helmets in the dugout,” Eric said. “Both sets of parents told them that if they didn’t stop, we weren’t going to let them play. … You knew they were going to push it a little harder than everybody else.”

In high school, Jakob Robinson was a three-star prospect and the No. 20 recruit in the state, according to 247Sports.com. He and Slade led Orem to its third-straight state championship.

BYU defensive backs Jakob Robinson (0) and D’Angelo Mandell celebrate a defensive stand during the Vegas Kickoff Classic in Las Vegas on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“Jakob is my guy,” Slade said. “We have played football, basketball, baseball together. Every time we go on the field I know he is about to make a play. That’s just who he is. He has done that since a young age.”

Eric Robinson said a key to Jakob’s development in high school was former BYU defensive back Robertson Daniel, who provided private lessons. Daniel played some in the NFL and is now with the Toronto Argos of the Canadian Football League.

“Robertson is amazing. He just pushed Jakob into a whole new level. It has been pretty amazing to watch,” Eric said. “A lot of his ability comes from what Robertson taught him. And he was relentless in his training. He just has a love for the game. He has wanted to play in the NFL since he was little. That’s what he is pushing for.”

About that, Jakob Robinson said he’s got another year of college eligibility remaining after this year but hasn’t decided yet whether he will return to BYU or pursue his NFL dream in 2024.

From Orem to USU to BYU

BYU and Utah State were Robinson’s best offers out of high school. The Aggies wanted him to play right away, while the Cougars wanted him to redshirt or grayshirt his first year. He picked Utah State, which Eric Robinson remembers mailing his son 16 handwritten messages from every coach on the staff on one particular day.

Although he appeared in four games during the pandemic-altered 2020 season, Jakob Robinson’s experience in Logan wasn’t great, particularly because USU coach Gary Andersen resigned midway through the season. Why didn’t he sign with BYU in the first place?

“I kinda liked it up there on my visit, and I just wanted to get away from home for a little bit,” he said. “I have been in (Utah County) my whole life, so I just kinda wanted something new.”

At BYU, he has blossomed into a star. He says he wouldn’t change a thing about his current circumstances.

“Honestly, being at BYU has taught me to be a better person,” he said. “I respect people. I respect their opinions and stuff. I am very family oriented. It teaches you to stay close to your family because that is really all you have after everything is done.”

Head coach Kalani Sitake said when he recruited Robinson out of high school, there were some who believed he was “a little too small.” He credited BYU’s strength and conditioning staff for building him up.

Cougars on the air

BYU (2-0)
at Arkansas (2-0)
Saturday, 5:30 p.m. MDT
Fayetteville, Arkansas
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM

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“After we lost him to Utah State, I was glad he was able to come back,” Sitake said. “It was an easy thing for myself and Jernaro (Gilford) to welcome him back to our program and for our evaluation to be ‘Hey, we project him to be a big-time player.’”

Defensive coordinator Jay Hill said he would have loved to get Robinson when he was at Weber State.

“He’s not (undersized),” Hill said. “I hope (teams) keep throwing at him, because we keep seeing similar results. Jakob Robinson can play, and he’s got great ball skills. He’s got great feet. He’s going to be a really good player throughout the rest of this year. We are lucky to have him.”

The Robinson family of Orem would certainly agree.

BYU Cougars cornerback Jakob Robinson (wearing blue) intercepts a pass.
BYU cornerback Jakob Robinson intercepts a pass in the end zone during game against the Sam Houston Bearkats at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
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