PLAYING THROUGH PAIN: Reliable senior Robinson remembers brother, perseveres to help Temple succeed
Updated: Nov 11, 2021
STEADY AS HE GOES: Temple senior Jalen Robinson is a valuable player at running back and on special teams for the District 12-6A-leading Wildcats. He's rushed for 277 yards and three touchdowns on only 24 carries despite missing time because of a concussion, and he blocked two first-quarter punts in a win at rival Belton. Robinson is motivated by the memory of his late brother Jervontrae Robinson, who was shot and killed in Killeen at age 14 in September 2020. Jalen Robinson and Temple (7-2, 6-0) seek their eighth straight victory when they host the Copperas Cove Bulldawgs (1-8, 1-5) in the regular-season finale at 7:30 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
If someone without any prior knowledge of Temple’s football team watched Jalen Robinson’s best plays from this season, that person probably would be inclined to believe that the senior is one of the Wildcats’ most outstanding players.
Robinson sprinted for an 80-yard touchdown run against No. 1-ranked, reigning state champion Austin Westlake. He blocked two punts in the first quarter against rival Belton, with senior teammate O’Tarian Peoples returning one for a touchdown.
Robinson carried the ball nine consecutive plays for 65 yards and a TD against Killeen Shoemaker. And he ripped off a 38-yard TD rush and a 32-yard burst in a 44-6 victory last Friday at Killeen, totaling 99 yards on six carries to help Temple clinch its third straight District 12-6A championship.
“Jalen’s a hell of a running back. He’s just so strong – a lot of core strength and balance. You hit him and he just kind of ricochets,” Temple head coach Scott Stewart said about the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Robinson, who’s recovered well after suffering two concussions – the first during the Wildcats’ spring game in late May and the second in their Sept. 24 district opener at Bryan.
The reality is that Robinson is a backup running back to senior standout Samari Howard and primarily serves as a key contributor on special teams.
However, Robinson is completely content with his place and role on Temple’s team, because the framework of the Wildcats’ program and the meaningful relationships he’s built within it have helped him persevere and get through very difficult situations in his young life.
Asked if he’s pleased with how he’s performed during his senior season, the thoughtful, soft-spoken Robinson paused and did his best to put everything in proper perspective.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say pleased. More like just a little proud of myself, because of the things I’ve been through for the past year and a half. I’m proud of where I came from and how far I’ve come,” Robinson said Tuesday as playoff-bound Temple (7-2, 6-0) prepared for its regular-season finale against Copperas Cove (1-8, 1-5) at 7:30 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium.
TOUGH GUY TO TACKLE: Temple senior running back Jalen Robinson (25) breaks away from Killeen senior defender Jacobia Thomas for one of his two rushes of 30-plus yards during the Wildcats' 44-6 victory over the Kangaroos last Friday at Leo Buckley Stadium. Robinson scored a 38-yard touchdown and compiled 99 yards on six carries as Temple clinched at least a share of its third consecutive District 12-6A championship. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
In September 2020, two months after his 16th birthday, Robinson was busy getting ready for Temple’s upcoming football season when tragedy struck his family. On Sept. 14, his 14-year-old brother Jervontrae Robinson was shot and killed by a juvenile acquaintance at a Killeen residence.
According to media reports, Killeen Police Department originally investigated Jervontrae’s death as a murder but by the end of 2020 classified it as a “non-criminal homicide.” Details about how the case and investigation currently stand were not available.
“From the story I was told, honestly it sounded like it was an accident. It sounded like it was a kid who just got a little jealous and he took it way too far,” Jalen Robinson said. “But at the same time, I forgive the kid, because he’s just a child.”
Before transferring to Killeen ISD, Jervontrae Robinson attended Temple’s Lamar Middle School, where he played football and basketball and competed in track and field. His nickname was Stink. Jalen Robinson remembers his brother fondly, smiling as he described himself and Jervontrae as “polar opposites.”
“He was a very energetic, funny, goofy little kid. I loved the dude to death,” Jalen said. “Sometimes brothers play-fight, so we used to play-fight sometimes. We’d play games and he’d always beat me. He was very good at basketball. It’s funny, he took my dad’s genes of being good at basketball. I didn’t take that, so I went with football. We were like polar opposites, but we always found a way to interact with each other. I was very surprised how many people knew my brother.”
The pain Jalen Robinson still feels about his brother’s death is evident, yet so are the positive memories he has of growing up with Jervontrae.
“You can’t really describe how much you love somebody, because love is indefinite. I just loved the dude to death,” Jalen said. “We always would compete, too. I remember he just danced out of nowhere and he tried to get me to dance. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not going to dance with you.’ He was very energetic and would bring people together. I would help him here and he would help me there. He was the best brother you could ever have.”
Both Stewart and Wildcats offensive coordinator Josh Sadler said that in the aftermath of Jervontrae Robinson’s death, they simply tried to let Jalen Robinson know that they were there to offer support whenever he felt like he needed it.
“We did, but he handled it like a grown man handles his business. I mean, he wasn’t looking for help. He kept doing what he was supposed to do,” Sadler said. “You could tell when he was hurting and you could tell when it was bothering him. We tried to talk to him when he would want to talk.”
Stewart said the same model applies for all of Temple’s players who might be experiencing difficult times in their lives.
“I think you just let them know, and I try to do this to all of them, that if my door’s closed, they can come in here and do whatever they want. They can come in here and absolutely tear me apart,” Stewart said. “Young men have to have a safe space, especially these days. This world has a perception, and it’s jacked up in my opinion, of what a man should be.
"When I have a kid that I know is going through something, I don’t wait for him. I go bring him in here and we break it down to the core and I let him know that there’s somebody in his corner who’s here for him.”
Robinson does his best to take care of everyday things in his life. He maintains a 3.7 grade-point average and plans to study software engineering in college, adding that he loves technological devices and learning how computers work. He works diligently to maximize his athletic ability and hopes to earn an opportunity to play college football. Also a pole vaulter, he qualified for last spring’s Class 6A Region II track and field meet. And he regularly helps his mother, Brittney Holloway, at The Happy Place, her hair and beauty salon on 31st Street, just south of Temple High School.
“Jalen’s a hard-working kid, a first-class kid and a neat kid to be around. Really he’s a good kid to have in your program,” Sadler said. “Anybody would love to have the young man. He’s as even-keeled as they come. He doesn’t ever have a bad attitude, and he’s a team-first kid. He does everything he’s supposed to do and does it well.”
For Stewart, Robinson’s traits that stand out the most are consistency and reliability.
“What I love the most is you get the exact same thing every day. He’s going to work his tail off and come with a great attitude. You don’t ever get anything different. He just comes with a yeoman’s mentality,” Stewart said. “He’s dealt with a lot in his life, and you’re still going to get the same kid when he puts a helmet on. That’s an admirable quality.”
As strong and steady as Robinson is, he’s very young for his grade – he’ll turn 18 next July 5 – and not immune to having moments when memories of his late brother come flooding back. Temple’s 60-53 home win over Hutto on Sept. 10 came almost one year after Jervontrae died, and Stewart said that after the game he consoled an emotional Jalen Robinson.
“There’s situations that happen, and what I try to tell Jalen is, ‘This is a part of life. I’d love to tell you as a young man that this is the last time you have to feel something like this, but it probably isn’t. It may not be a sibling or a parent or a grandparent, but it’s going to be something,’” Stewart said. “Not that it makes it hurt any less. It’s just the concept of, ‘Let’s live for them.’
“Obviously grieving is a part of the process, and it’s OK to cry. If you feel like you’re not handling something real well, either call me or tell your teachers you need to come see me. I sat (Jalen’s family) down and wanted them to know this is not something you can do on your own. This book (the Bible) promises you can’t do it on your own. So just knowing somebody’s there has helped him, and I think it helps me.”
Following Temple’s title-clinching win last Friday in Killeen, Robinson lingered on the turf field at Leo Buckley Stadium for several minutes after his teammates had returned to their locker room, crouching near the goal line as he collected his thoughts.
“All of us have been through similar situations, but you’ve never been through that specific situation, so it was a tough time for Jalen. He still struggles some with it, as we all do with things like that,” Sadler said. “He had a moment after the Killeen ballgame where I caught him and he was thinking about it. That’s where his brother was, so he had a moment and we talked about it for a little bit and then he was good to go. When you lose somebody in your life, it’s going to stick with you for a long time.”
Sadler shared that he speaks from experience on that subject. He was a 16-year-old high school football player when his mother died of a massive heart attack at age 39. So when Jalen Robinson needed support and encouraging words after the Killeen game, the offensive coordinator certainly empathized with his running back.
“I was able to share with him that the Wednesday before we played Friday night was the 25th year since my mother passed, so we’ve been able to talk in similar circles about tragedy and hurt and pain and how it doesn’t go away and it’s always going to be there,” Sadler said. “You just have to learn how to deal with it in your own way. He’s handled it like a grown man should and I’m very proud of him. Thinking back 25 years, I don’t know that I handled it as well as he’s handled it.
“You never know, and that’s why I tell kids, ‘Tell your parents you love them. Tell your brothers and sisters you love them. Don’t go to bed mad at each other.’”
Jalen Robinson said he and his family experienced a very difficult period during the week to 10 days after his brother’s death. Looking back, he considers the Wildcats' season-opening 40-13 victory over Longview on Sept. 25, 2020 at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium as a major step in their healing process.
“At first, I would say for me it was very confusing, because when I received the news . . . I don’t like social media, because that’s the way I found out. I didn’t get a chance to accept it in a better way, like someone talking about it,” Robinson recalled. “At first it was really tough. When we were in the funeral, the tension, cold air . . . it felt like no one could move at all really. It was like suffocating. Nobody was talking. Nobody was going out of their houses.
“I felt like, ‘I need to do something. I need to show everybody, ‘It is all right. Yes, we’ve lost somebody very dear to us, but if we don’t get out and do something, something really bad might happen to us.’ So I believe that week when we were fixing to go against Longview at the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium, that’s when I think it started to pick back up. I was like, ‘I need to show them that it is all right.’ And so after we played, my family started to pick up and get back on their feet, and I started to talk to people.
“I actually met some of my brothers that I didn’t even know I had. They were all younger than me. I didn’t even know I had another sister. I met her and we had the best time of our life. There was some tension between the family, because some people didn’t like each other. But through my brother’s death, it made my family come together. So I look at my brother’s death not as a tragedy but more as a blessing, because some of the things that we’ve been battling for a long time finally are over with. But it came with a cost.”
Robinson, who was promoted from junior varsity to varsity during his sophomore season, played his first full varsity campaign in 2020 and rushed for 209 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries while backing up 12-6A co-MVP Howard for the 10-2 Wildcats. Robinson ran for a 33-yard touchdown in Temple's 38-0 home playoff win against Waxahachie.
BITTERSWEET HIGHLIGHT: Temple senior running back Jalen Robinson breaks away from Austin Westlake defenders for an 80-yard touchdown run during the fourth quarter of the Wildcats' season-opening 54-13 loss to the top-ranked Chaparrals on Aug. 27 at Wildcat Stadium. Robinson scored Temple's only TD in the game. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Although Temple’s current squad struggled in all aspects in its season-opening 54-13 home loss to powerful Westlake in late August, Robinson recorded a personal highlight when he dashed 80 yards with 2½ minutes remaining for the Wildcats’ only touchdown, albeit against some Chaparrals reserve defenders.
“Straight up the middle. The funny thing was, when I was running, I was like, ‘Where are they at, though? I know y’all are fast, so where are y’all at?’ But no one came,” he said with a laugh. “Looking at the Jumbotron, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m by myself, so let me just go ahead and get this touchdown.’”
Robinson also was Temple’s punter to begin the season, but after an unsuccessful debut performance he was replaced in that role by fellow senior Danis Bajric, also the top kicker.
After his first concussion in the Wildcats’ May 27 spring game, Robinson sustained another concussion Sept. 24 during Temple’s district-opening 49-7 win at Bryan when 6-3, 240-pound Vikings senior linebacker Nic Caraway delivered a jarring hit on Robinson’s third-quarter run through the middle, causing a fumble that Bryan recovered.
“He is a big sucker, I ain’t gonna lie. I only saw one person in front of me, so I was going to juke back in, but I never saw him,” Robinson said of Caraway. “No. 7 came out of nowhere and just knocked the crap out of me. It happens. It’s part of football.”
“Jalen came to the sideline and was like, ‘What happened?’ Some of those, it’s an ambulance ride. I look up and he’s standing right beside me about 3 minutes later. I’m like, ‘You good?’ And he goes, ‘Oh, yeah, Coach,’” Stewart said. “You’ve only got one brain. We do Sway testing before they can participate and it measures reaction time, eye movement and everything that a concussion would mess with.
“They have to have a baseline, and they’re not even allowed to start practicing if they don’t have it. That way if somebody does get dinged, we do that Sway test and it’s incredibly accurate at saying, ‘OK, there’s some anomalies here and this kid definitely falls in this category.’ The weird thing is some kids score higher after a possible (concussion) than they did before. It’s been a very useful tool, because I ain’t messing with kids’ brains.”
Robinson missed the rest of the Bryan game and Temple’s comeback home win over Harker Heights, then played sparingly in the Wildcats’ Oct. 7 victory at Killeen Ellison.
BIG BLUE BLOCKADE: Temple's Jalen Robinson (right) blocks a first-quarter punt by Belton's William Hayes as fellow senior O'Tarian Peoples also provides pressure during the Wildcats' 50-15 victory over the Tigers on Oct. 15 at Tiger Field. Robinson blocked another Hayes punt a couple minutes later and Peoples returned it 2 yards for a touchdown and a 28-2 lead in the first. It was Temple's ninth straight win against Belton. (File photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
It was during the first quarter of Temple’s Oct. 15 rivalry game at Belton that Robinson demonstrated that he was fully back to feeling like his normal self. With the Wildcats already leading 14-2 less than 5 minutes into the game, Temple’s line shifted just before the snap and Robinson swarmed Tigers punter William Hayes and blocked the kick, with Isaiah Rodriguez recovering the ball on Belton’s 18-yard line to set up another touchdown.
“When it was snapped back there, I was like, ‘Oh, time to go.’ I just went straight through,” Robinson said. “The guy in front of me wasn’t paying attention at all, so I took advantage of that and got back there and smothered it. That was a golden opportunity.”
Belton again tried to punt from deep in its territory a couple minutes later, and again – despite no presnap shift this time – Robinson invaded Hayes’ space and blocked another kick, with Peoples scooping up the ball at the 2 and scoring for a commanding 28-2 advantage.
“(Senior Kobe Smith) and I were pretty much neck-and-neck. Kobe had dived for it and I saw him out of the corner of my eye, but I was ahead a little bit,” Robinson explained. “For some reason, I decided not to use both of my hands like we’re taught to do. Instead, I used one and luckily hit my (right) hand at the right time.”
Robinson noted that before his two blocks in the 50-15 victory at Belton, Temple hadn’t come through with a blocked punt since Roman Jackson against Harker Heights in 2019, much to the chagrin of Robby Case, who coordinates the Wildcats’ special teams.
“I was like, ‘This is what a special teams coordinator’s dream is, is to finally get what he needs,’” Robinson said. “Coach Case always preaches, ‘One of these games is going to be the game we won off special teams,’ and we just busted it open. The funny thing was that on the second one, I wasn’t expecting it. But Coach Case always tells us, ‘Run every single time like you know you’re fixing to go block this ball.’”
Added Robinson, who rushed three times for 7 yards against Belton, about recovering from his second concussion: “I believe when I got those two blocked punts, I was like, ‘OK, I’m starting to get back to where I need to be.’ I started to get the confidence back. Everything happens for a reason.”
One week later, Robinson put his stamp on Temple’s 60-15 homecoming win against Shoemaker. Beginning a possession from their 40 with 9 minutes remaining, the Wildcats – who had a 5-yard penalty on the drive – handed the ball to Robinson nine plays in a row, featuring consecutive gains of 15, 12 and 11 yards. He bulled in for a 1-yard touchdown to cap a 65-yard, 6-minute personal march.
“That was when I was starting to build my confidence back to where I want it to be,” Robinson said. “We were trying to be smart, and at the same time I was like, ‘Yeah, I want a TD today.’ I got a reward at the end. I ain’t gonna lie, I was more tired on that 80-yard run against Westlake.”
Robinson, who credits much of his physical stamina to Temple strength and conditioning coordinator Ryan Boutwell, has rushed 24 times this season for 277 yards and three touchdowns. In two years he’s amassed 486 yards and six TDs on 52 carries, a gaudy 9.3 yards per attempt.
“Jalen’s very strong in the lower half. He squats a lot and power cleans a lot. He reminds me a lot of some of the old-style runners like Emmitt Smith who were very low-centered,” Sadler said. “People just seem to bounce off of him. He drives through those arm tackles. He’s not a kid who’s a juke kid. He’s a one-cut, downhill runner, which is a changeup from Samari – not that Samari isn’t a powerful runner, because he is.”
Last Friday at Killeen, Robinson blasted off right tackle late in the third quarter, broke a tackle attempt and raced for a 38-yard touchdown. He did it again in the fourth, breaking off a 32-yard run to set up Howard’s 10-yard TD rush that moved him into a share of the lead on Temple’s all-time scoring list with 312 points.
“Unquestionably Jalen’s a very, very valued part of this team,” Stewart said. “I’ve always challenged them that, ‘If your current situation is either not what you want or not what you thought it was going to be, then let’s take a look at something else. Anything you can do to add value to yourself is always going to work out.’
“Again, I think you get more opportunities to contribute when you can put yourself aside. That was a transition I had to go through in college (at Sam Houston State), to be part of a team and not be ‘the guy.’ Some guys can get out of their own way and some can’t, and Jalen absolutely can.”
While Robinson is fast enough to serve as an alternate on Temple’s 4x100-meter and 4x200 relays, his main pursuit in track and field is pole vault. He was introduced to that event approximately six years ago by then-Temple girls track and field coach and current Lake Belton coach Callie Cameron, wife of current Wildcats quarterbacks coach/assistant offensive coordinator Andrew Cameron.
“Pole vault is hard to do. Pole vault is really hard to do. It’s like, ‘If you knew, you would know, but you don’t,’” Robinson said, chuckling. “It all started with me struggling to get over 6 feet. It was the funniest thing, because I was stuck there for about a week. But all of a sudden it just clicked, and it started to get rolling.
“At first I was skeptical, like, ‘I don’t see how people just trust a pole to slingshot you across a mat.’ After I got it, it was pretty fun to do and not a lot of people are just willing to jump in the air with a pole. If you’re willing to do it, it’s, “Here’s your pole and there you go. We’ll help you along the way.’ Our motto is just, ‘Jump high, don’t die.’”
Last spring Robinson advanced out of Temple’s district and area meets but admittedly did not fare well in the Region II meet at Waco Midway, where he said problems with communicating his specific measurement standards to meet officials negatively impacted his performance.
“It was a brand-new experience, but now that I know that, I will keep that experience filed in my head for when I go back to regionals again (next spring) and I’ll adjust,” Robinson said. “I told Coach (Zach) Posey, ‘We need to practice how regionals goes, because if we practice it, it won’t be new to us when we finally get there.’”
With a personal best of 14 feet, 6 inches, Robinson said he has his sights set on Temple’s long-standing program record of 16-3.
After practice most days, Robinson makes the short trip to The Happy Place to help his mother with various tasks.
“She’ll usually be too busy to take out the trash, so I’m around just to make sure everything’s clean and neat,” said Robinson, who lives with his mom and four younger siblings and regularly visits with his father, Jermaine Robinson, who lives in Temple. “I enjoy it. It’s just helping Mom out. She’s open as late as her appointments are. She’s always booked, so she’s a very busy woman. I’m picking up how life works, basically. She shows me life lessons here and there.”
For Robinson, the good memories of time with his late brother Jervontrae never are far from his mind. So even though the workload of being a productive 6A football player is real and ongoing, Jalen recognizes and appreciates the support system he benefits from within a Temple program with high standards.
“It’s a dedication. If you really want to play football, then you’ve got to go for it, knowing all the costs and stuff,” Robinson said. “Sometimes I question (whether all the time and work is worth it), but then there’s always an example that shows up right in front of your face of why you say it is worth it.
“One of the main things Coach Stewart has been preaching about is, ‘You have something that not many other people have. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it, but they’re not.’ I come back to looking at having brothers around me. It’s good to know you have people who care about you and it’s not just about football. It’s more about love."