Robinson embraces unique path to XFL
HOUSTON -- The label “trailblazer” is a lot for a just-turned 21-year-old to live up to, especially if he’s not sure what trail he’s actually blazing.
Safety Kenny Robinson does know this: He’s in the XFL for a reason and plans on making the most of it.
“I’m getting better and better every day,” Robinson said Friday after St. Louis BattleHawks training camp practice at W.W. Thorne Stadium. “I’m getting smarter, getting to learn the game. I’m taking it day by day.”
The BattleHawks start the season Feb. 9 (5 p.m. ET, ESPN) at the Dallas Renegades.
The youngest member of the BattleHawks owns the distinction of being the first player to enter the XFL Draft with college eligibility remaining. The Wilkinsburg, Pa, native spent two years as a standout at West Virginia before entering the NCAA transfer portal following his sophomore season in 2018.
Robinson never transferred. Family concerns took precedent, as his mother was diagnosed with cancer around the same time Robinson was considering new schools.
The XFL opened up a door that isn’t there in the NFL, which requires players to be three years out of high school before being draft eligible. Robinson took the opening.
“It was either go to school or help take care of my family and do what I love,” he said. “The XFL is also paying for me to take classes still, so I can take classes and get my degree and take care of my family at the same time.”
In essence, this is Robinson’s junior year. Instead of a scholarship, he’s getting paid. And with it comes a certain level of responsibility.
“That’s why I try to do as much as I can, just be mature and stay on top of things, to make sure if someone else is in my situation I can open a way for them,” said Robinson, an All-Big 12 first-team selection in 2018.
BattleHawks coach Jonathan Hayes knows plenty about being a professional athlete and its demands. He spent 12 years in the NFL with Kansas City and Pittsburgh before going into coaching. He was at Oklahoma for four years under current Renegades coach Bob Stoops before a 15-year run as an assistant with the Cincinnati Bengals.
"He’s athletic. He’s got great range. He’s got great ball skills. He’s a smart kid, understands the game, very instinctive. Those are the things that you dream for with a safety. He’ll come up and put you on the ground."
Hayes can also relate to Robinson starting his pro career at an early age. Hayes’ 19-year-old son Jaxson is currently an NBA rookie with New Orleans.
“If we want to put it in perspective, tennis players can turn pro when they’re 15, when they’re ready to do it, and I understand the difference between sports,” Hayes said. “In basketball, you can do it at 19.
“If a guy is mature enough and, it’s a case-by-case basis, but if he can do it, he can do it. I would promote staying in school. It’s important and I’ve talked to my son about it, I want him to finish school, but you have a great opportunity so why not take it? The same with Kenny. He has a great opportunity.”
Robinson only hit the legal drinking age earlier this month, so being in the same defensive backfield with seasoned pros such as Trovon Reed and Will Hill has taken some getting used to.
“When I first came in December it was kinda of weird because a lot of the guys were way older than me, around my brother’s and sister’s age, so it was a little different for me, but I’m getting used to it,” Robinson said. “It’s not much of a change. It’s just mental.”
The scouting report on Robinson (6-2, 198) from Hayes is nothing less than stellar. The BattleHawks are expecting a true difference-maker.
“I think he’s going to be fabulous,” Hayes said. “I really do. He’s athletic. He’s got great range. He’s got great ball skills. He’s a smart kid, understands the game, very instinctive. Those are the things that you dream for with a safety. He’ll come up and put you on the ground. He’s a very sure tackler.
“The other part of it is maturity; how is he going to handle it when he’s away from the building? Those are the things that are always a question mark. I think watching him function when we were in St. Louis and now that we’re back here, he’s shown me nothing but that he can do it. He understands his priorities.”
Hayes still conducts room checks and has noticed Robinson in his bed each night, legs in air boots and studying his playbook.
“He understands it. He gets it,” Hayes continued. “We’ve got a lot of players who have played in professional football and they’ve helped him. Whether he plays here for the next five years or if he decides something else is in store for him, he’s more than prepared for it.”
Robinson is open about the prospects that may arise for himself and his family from the XFL. The NFL is a goal, as he navigates his first season as a professional and prepares for the future.
Until then, he's committed to becoming the best version of himself for the BattleHawks and anyone that follows in his footsteps.
“I have to because I have the potential to be a trailblazer and open up doors for a lot of other people,” Robinson said. “I take it very seriously, being one of the first people to do this, so I’ve got to give my all to it.”