Not long after he had joined the Riverhead High School boys track and field team four years ago and discovered he had a talent for running fast, Jacob Robinson got into the habit after a race of asking the school’s winter coach, Sal Loverde, if he had run fast.
Loverde recalled, “He would just give me the look, you know, the Jacob look, and I would say: ‘No, you’re not fast yet. I’ll tell you when you’re fast.’ ”
And so it went over recent years. Then, one day this past winter, Robinson ran the 300 meters in a school record time of 35.52 seconds at The Armory in New York City. He gave Loverde that familiar look, as if to say, “So, what do you think?”
Loverde couldn’t deny what he had seen and had to concede, “Alright, maybe you’re fast now.”
Robinson’s fast legs have brought the senior sprinter plenty of accolades and awards. The two-time all-state athlete is linked to four school records, indoors and outdoors. He had third-place medals placed around his neck after running for the Section XI intersectional distance-medley relay team in the past two state indoor meets.
But what Robinson did on Friday may have been most special of all. With pen in hand, he put ink to paper and signed on to accept a track scholarship from Merrimack College (Mass.), an NCAA Division II school.
“I guess the biggest achievement is just going to college, really,” Robinson said. “I know my freshman year I told myself I was going to work hard for four years to get a scholarship. I guess when I got it, I just felt relieved. I actually stuck with something for four years and I actually did it, so that was like the biggest thing. All the awards from track and stuff, they’re all nice, but I feel like getting this track and field scholarship is amazing.”
Some might say the way Robinson runs is amazing. He recently eclipsed the school outdoor record in the 400 meters with a time of 50.58 seconds. That improved upon the old mark of 50.64 that was set by Will Razzano, an assistant coach for the Blue Waves, in 2007.
“It was nice to be able to be there and see it,” said Razzano, who continued: “He would always come to me, asking for advice: ‘How do I run it? What do I do?’ So it’s nice to be able to help him and see it finally broken. Records are meant to be broken.”
Robinson was also a member of school-record relay teams in the distance-medley relay (11:42.12) and the Texas sprint-medley relay (1:36.14).
A coach cannot use a magic wand to make a sprinter fast. “They like to say you can create a distance runner over time,” Loverde said. “You can’t create speed. You can polish it.”
Robinson has refined his craft over the years since joining the Blue Waves as a quiet, shy freshman.
A sprinter’s progress is made by slight increments. A tenth of a second is huge in 100 meters, for example. Robins has shaved time — 10ths of seconds at a time — off his sprints by becoming more technically correct.
Loverde said, “Those 10ths of a second can mean the difference between being a county champion and not being recognized at all, so it’s a lot of work for that little bit of growth, but that growth makes a significant difference.”
Robinson has followed in the footsteps of his step-sister, Ashley Lewis, a former Riverhead High School track athlete who went on to throw the shot put and the javelin for Albany State.
“I worked hard,” he said.
Coaches said Robinson’s commitment and work ethic have given him a future in the sport at the next level.
“He’s someone that had a little bit of talent, but he really worked for four years,” said Steve Gevinski, who coaches Riverhead’s outdoor team in the spring season. “Everything he’s got, no one gave him for free. He’s worked really hard for four years to get where he’s at right now.”
One of the people who made a difference in Robinson’s life was sitting to his right during the signing ceremony in the Riverhead High School library, Patrick Harris. Robinson said Harris helped steer him through the college process. Robinson also made special mention of his grandmother, Diane Robinson, who helped raise him.
“She’s a wonderful woman,” he said. “She got me through everything.”
Robinson said he was serious about going to LaSalle University (Pa.), but opted for Merrimack because of academic reasons. He said he wants to major in criminal justice and minor in pre-law.
At Merrimack, Robinson could be joining two area athletes who are competing for the Warriors this season as freshmen: Luis Cintron of Flanders and Keith Steinbrecher of Wading River.
“He has made some great strides because he was tentative in the beginning,” Loverde said. “I don’t know that he recognized the depth of his talent.
“It was very nice to see the evolution of his confidence, both as an individual and as an athlete mesh together to breed a great deal of success. He’s done a great job, a wonderful kid.”