Making a statement

Jakari Robinson (right) signed with Cincinnati in February of 2017. He started six games at center in 2018 as a redshirt freshman.

A former Munford High School football standout has landed squarely on the radar of college football experts projecting future accolades.

Jakari Robinson, a redshirt sophomore slated as the starting center for the Cincinnati Bearcats, was named to the Rimington Trophy Preseason Watch List. The Rimington Trophy, a postseason award given to the most outstanding center in college football, celebrates its 20th year anniversary in 2019.

“It’s just really an honor, for real,” Robinson said. “It’s just unexplainable because I know whatever I do, I want to be the best at it. When I came to college, I wanted to be the best college center in the nation. 

“I haven’t won the award yet, but it made me feel good that I know my talents are being recognized because I’ve been working very hard and I will continue to work very hard. It’s just an honor, especially looking at some of the past names that have won the trophy. It just makes me even more excited about my future.”

If Robinson produces on the field for the Bearcats and wins the award, then his name would stand in the history books alongside talents that include current NFL centers Maurkice Pouncey (Pittsburgh Steelers), Pat Elflein (Minnesota Vikings) and Ryan Kelly (Indianapolis Colts) as well as former NFL veteran Dominic Raiola, the first-ever Rimington Trophy winner in 2000 who carved out a 14-year career with the Detroit Lions.

During his time at Munford under head coach Bill Smith, Robinson blossomed into an all-state center and helped pave the Lions’ path to deep Class 4A playoff runs. When Robinson signed with Cincinnati in February 2017, Smith touted Robinson as the best center in the state and said he was the best center he ever coached.

Smith, who now coaches at Fayette County, said he had a chance to communicate with Robinson about the recent honor while Smith was on lunch break at an athletic director’s conference.

“This couldn’t have happened to a better young man whose has worked hard and put in the effort,” Smith said. “He’s an extremely hard worker. … I’ve continued to keep in contact with him and a couple of his coaches in Cincinnati. They’re really pleased with his development over the offseason and they’re looking for huge things in his redshirt sophomore year … I just couldn’t be happier for Jakari, his mom and his grandmother.”

Ever since he was young, Robinson said he told his mom he would one day play in the NFL, and he’s working towards the goal. He added getting an opportunity to make big contributions at the college level feels like he expected it to.

“Even with everything in my life, I would be nervous about other subjects, but football was the one thing that would keep me grounded,” he said. “I love football. I even wrote my mom a contract in third grade (that said) I’d quit getting in trouble if she’d let me play football …

“I guess you could say it’s kind of what I envisioned. I always envisioned myself being in a big-time role, but it’s still crazy to me how I ended up at Cincinnati, Ohio, though. That’s the craziest part. It’s just crazy the places that God can take you in life. It’s all going good though, so I can only thank Him.”

As a redshirt freshman at Cincinnati in 2018, Robinson filled in for injured senior center Garrett Campbell and started in six of the eight games in which he saw action. Robinson and his offensive linemates provided blocking for a Bearcats offense that set a school record with 3,113 rushing yards and helped guide the program to an 11-2 record.

“It’s really an honor to be able to touch the field at such a young age, to go ahead and get that experience so I know what to expect when I come out this year and so I can be a leader for the team,” Robinson said. “That’s my goal is just to be the best leader I can be.”

Robinson credited Campbell and several seniors on the squad for helping with his development.

“I really learned mostly just growing up, how to be a professional and how to be a leader because they showed me so much, even on the field,” Robinson said. “Even though I was the backup and Garrett was the starter, we still helped each other out. I’d be watching film, and if I see something about his technique, I would say something. He was really good, so he really just helped me a lot and helped me grow up on and off the field … 

“Some of the things I’ll take away is his drive. No matter what he was doing or how tired he was, his mental toughness and all that. He was just really the perfect leader, and I could say that about all our seniors. They just showed us the way, and that’s how we’re turning the program into (what) it’s turning into now -- a powerhouse.”

While he hones his craft on the field, Robinson also contends with the challenges of going from a rural community like Munford to a city the size of Cincinnati.

“It’s way different from growing up in Talladega and going to Munford,” Robinson said. “My dorm is right here in the middle of the city, so I’m just getting adjusted to that city life ... I’m just getting used to everything, people knowing me when I go to the store and all types of stuff. I like the change though. It’s given me a taste of both worlds.”