Boys Winter Track: Robinson, the man with the headband

Jacob Robinson and his headband will be part of Section XI's distance-medley relay team. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)
Jacob Robinson and his headband will be part of Section XI’s distance-medley relay team. (Credit: Garret Meade, file)

The fastest-moving headband in Riverhead High School these days belongs to Jacob Robinson.

Robinson has an affable way about him, with a friendly face and a pleasant demeanor to match. When he is on the track, the senior sprinter can be found wearing his trademark white headband. The headband has become as much a part of his persona as his blistering speed and his insatiable desire to run faster.

“You got to have the headband or it’s not Jacob,” said Riverhead coach Sal Loverde.

Robinson, who is in his fourth season on Riverhead’s winter track team, believes he began wearing a headband as a sophomore out of superstition more than anything else. If he does well in competition while wearing a particular item of clothing, he explained, then he likes to wear the same item the next time.

“It’s just something that’s like in me,” he said. “I feel like if I don’t have a headband, for some reason, I’m not going to run good.”

The headband has been kind to Robinson, who is headed to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships for the second year in a row. He will run a leg for Section XI’s distance-medley relay team on Saturday at Cornell University in Ithaca.

Robinson, Riverhead’s team captain, has good memories of Cornell’s ancient looking Barton Hall. Last year he earned a third-place medal along with his teammates in the distance-medley relay. Robinson ran the 200-meter leg of the relay in 23.5 seconds, according to Riverhead’s assistant coach, Will Razzano.

At the time, Robinson called it a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. He was wrong. On Saturday he will get another shot at state glory.

“How many athletes on Long Island run track and field? How many?” Loverde asked. “You go through the schools and look at the numbers, it’s probably the biggest numbered program there is. How many kids are going upstate? Very few. So, it’s quite an honor and quite a privilege that he is about to embark on again.”

Robinson, who has a running career awaiting him at La Salle University in Philadelphia after high school graduation, is enjoying a fruitful senior season. He has run the 300 meters in as fast as 35.59 seconds. In last month’s state qualifying meet, he finished fifth in 36.27. Robinson was involved in a pair of fourth-place showings in the recent Long Island Elite Track Invitational. He was clocked in 36.31 in the 300, and handled the anchor leg for Riverhead’s 4×200-meter relay team, which included Andrew Smith, Chyuvaughn Cameron and Marcus Reid.

Over the course of his time with the Blue Waves, Robinson has chipped away at his times, 10ths of a second at a time. The secret to his success goes beyond pure speed, though.

“You can’t coach speed, you’re born with it, bottom line, but the difference between being competitively fast and being naturally fast is the amount of effort you put into perfecting your craft,” Loverde said. The coach said he is most impressed with how Robinson gets the “absolute best out of himself, out of his talent. There are certain kids who are more richly talented that don’t reach the level of performance that he’s reached. He’s one of those kids who has a rich bed of talent, but excels in his given craft, in terms of his sprints, because of the amount of effort and practice and understanding he puts into the events, so he can actually make himself faster than kids who might be naturally faster than him.”

Running in the intersectional distance-medley relay with runners from other schools who have never practiced together adds an element of unpredictability to the event.

“I’m running with three other random kids that I don’t know, that I don’t practice with,” Robinson said. “We really don’t have that connect bond that a regular team does.”

“We run all good times,” he continued. “It’s just going to come down to the handoffs. You can’t drop [the baton], and we just got to stay focused.”

Robinson will get another crack at the 300 this season. His final high school meet will be the New Balance Nationals Indoor meet March 13-15 at The Armory in New York City. He said he wants to break 35 seconds. Before then, however, he has another goal in mind.

“I want to win states,” he said, “that’s the biggest thing. … I really want to come out and win the state championship.”

What is Loverde’s advice for Robinson on his return to the state meet?

The coach said, “Go up there, enjoy yourself, enjoy the memories — run fast.”

BLUE WAVES IN EASTERN STATES Jacob Robinson warmed up for the state meet by competing, along with some teammates, Tuesday in the Eastern States Indoor Track & Field Championships at The Armory in New York City. Robinson clocked a time of 7.92 seconds in the preliminaries of the 55-meter hurdles before turning in a time of 8.13 in the semifinals. He also recorded the 10th-fastest time in the 200 preliminaries: 22.90.

Another Riverheader, Andrew Smith, ran the 55-meter dash preliminaries in 6.84 seconds.

Two Riverhead athletes, Troy Trent and Curtis Flippen, competed in field events. Trent was 20th in the shot put with a throw of 48 feet 8 inches on his third attempt. Flippen came in 26th in the triple jump (39-8 3/4) and 29th in the long jump (18-6 1/4).

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