With all Porter Ridge has been able to accomplish on the football field the past few seasons, you’d think star running back, defensive back and kick returner Jerrick Robbins would be satisfied to be a part of it.
But he isn’t. In fact, Robbins is using his senior campaign as a sounding- off board to ensure the people who have doubts about him, his team or the Pirates’ new conference are finally convinced that Porter Ridge belongs among the state’s elite teams – despite the fact they’ve played in the past two state championship games.
In this season’s opening week, the Pirates lost 24-22 to Mount Tabor on a last-second field goal. And, worse for opponents, Robbins felt he didn’t play very well as he was limited to just 37 rushing yards and 10 carries.
That performance only further fueled Robbins’ competitive fire.
Last season, as he shared running back duties with all-state performer Chris Duffy, Robbins averaged an eye-popping 8.6 yards per carry en route to more than 1,300 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns.
Despite that, there were rumblings that Robbins couldn’t carry the full brunt of the compact frame – he’s listed at 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, and that may be stretching things a little – and concerns over his durability.
But so far this season, and despite a lackluster opening-week game, Robbins has been even better. He’s averaged 8.9 yards per rush and ran for 392 yards and eight touchdowns through four games. Along the way, he crossed the 2,000 career rushing yard mark, but he’s only using those accomplishments to drive all that he wants to do this season.
After Week 1, Robbins wanted to prove the skeptics wrong. He got six carries in Porter Ridge’s next game, a 59-7 dismantling of Piedmont, but made the most of them as he gained 151 yards and scored three touchdowns.
The next week, against Providence, Robbins was simply magnificent. He returned a kick 97 yards for a touchdown, rushed for 94 yards and, after returning a punt 57 yards, scored the winning touchdown. For good measure, Robbins intercepted a last-second pass to ensure the 28-24 win.
To say he was a game-changer would under sell his performance that night. But Robbins hopes to keep impacting games any way he can.
“I like playing and love being on the field at all times,” Robbins said. “I’ve always been fast with the ball in my hands and I hope people realize how fast that I am. I like it when I hear people talking about my speed on the field. I’m fast, but I’m also quick and I can make people miss and can get around people.
“I guess I can do a little bit of everything.”
Robbins certainly can do it all, and it’s not just on the football field where his star shines brightly.
Robbins averages 6.4 points for the Pirates’ basketball team, and is a standout baseball player as he hit .344 last season and is a terror on the base paths.
At first, Robbins was convinced he wanted to follow his uncle, 12-year major leaguer Quinton McCracken, and pursue baseball in college – saying that sport was his first love.
But as the football season plays out, he’s leaning more toward football, or maybe trying to play both sports at the next level.
“I think it’s going to change,” Robbins said of his decision to concentrate on baseball. “By the end of this season, it’s probably going to change.”
So far Gardner-Webb, Campbell and the Charlotte 49ers have offered Robbins a football scholarship, but he said he hopes more will follow.
“Hopefully, after people see me, there will be some more after me; but it’s cool to have those already interested,” Robbins said.
Robbins added that he’s most excited for his senior season because the Pirates, who have been to the last two Class 4A title games, move up to Class 4-AA and into the Southwestern 4A conference with perennial powers Butler and Independence looming on their schedule.
To say Robbins is up to the challenge would be an understatement.
“I’m excited to see what Independence and Butler and those schools have (to offer us),” Robbins said. “They’ve always been talking and stuff and I want to see if they’re really good or all talk.
“We play against some really good teams that are as good as those schools and we’ve been in big games, too. We’re not going to be surprised by them, but I think they’ll be surprised at how good we’re going to be.”
No team other than Butler or Independence has won the conference title in more than a decade. But, with Robbins’ help, the Pirates are ready to change that.
While Robbins is the headliner, he isn’t alone in the Porter Ridge offense. Quarterback Isaiah Hicklin has thrown for 722 yards and five touchdowns and is a threat to run, as well. Grant Vandervoort has assumed Robbins’ old role and has 336 rushing yards and two touchdowns. And when Hicklin goes to the air, Luke Bayly (350 receiving yards), A.J. Barrett (178) and Corey Hardison (138) are all viable options.
Those playmakers have enabled the Pirates to outscore their opponents by nearly 100 points this season. As good as the offense has been, the defense will have to continue to play well, as they’ve allowed 65 points in four games behind the standout play of Robbins and, among others, linebackers Nick Vagnone and Ron Hedd and defensive end Donnie Warren.
“Our defense is the key to how well we do,” Robbins said. “We have to hold some of these teams down once conference gets here. I think we can score, but our defense needs to keep playing well.”
Robbins will continue to be a force in the defensive secondary, but it’s his prowess on offense and special teams that has the Pirates anxious to show the rest of the Southwestern 4A conference that they’re are up to the challenge.
“It’s going to be hard and it’s going to be tough the rest of the way,” Robbins said. “But we know that some how and some way we have to come out with a win.”
With Robbins leading the way, the Pirates will be in every game. Entering this week’s tilt against Sun Valley, Robbins is 116 yards from surpassing 3,000 career all-purpose yards – a benchmark of both his talent and durability.
But he isn’t about milestones: Robbins is more concerned with winning and validating the Pirates last two seasons.
“We knew this year was going to be hard and we were going to have to work that much harder to achieve our goals this season,” Robbins said.
“We’re going to play hard for all four quarters, we’re going to give it everything that we have and we’re not going to give up ever.”