It had to be the toughest thing for the Marist football program to do collectively do. Just three days after learning about the sudden death of freshman defensive tackle Kylin Polhill, the Royal Knights had to take on Ferris.
“It was real hard,” said senior running back D’Ondre Robinson, the team’s leader. “It was actually hard to play the game. We all had a good relationship with Ky. We all loved him. We grew together. He was a part of us.”
Robinson made a promise to Marist head coach Juan Garcia and to Robinson’s mother before the game.
“I said, ‘I’m playing this game for Ky,’” Robinson said. “I’m going to do it for him. He guided me. He gave me a lot of motivation.”
Garcia said that he knew Robinson was ready to have a big game in memory of his teammate.
“Right before the game, he told me, `Just give me the ball, Coach,’” Garcia said. “He said, `I’m going to carry the team.’ I knew he was ready. I knew that he was going to do something special.”
Garcia said that he knew Robinson was deeply touched and emotional after the passing of Polhill, who collapsed while playing a pickup basketball game and later died at the age of 14.
“He was one of the first kids to call me when he heard about Ky,” Garcia said. “He asked, ‘Is this really happening?’ D’Ondre was really moved. He loved Ky.”
So when the Royal Knights lined up to face the Bulldogs last Friday night, soon after an emotional pre-game ceremony where Polhill was remembered and Polhill’s mother was presented with his game jersey, Robinson was ready to go to work.
It didn’t take long for Robinson to prove just how motivated he was.
Robinson took the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, setting the tone for what would be one of the best all-around performances in Hudson County history.
“Right off the bat, he did something special,” Garcia said. “It was amazing. He just took the ball and he was gone. There was still so much emotion on the field and D’Ondre takes the ball for a touchdown. The whole team ran into the end zone to be with him. I told the referee that I tried to keep them to stay back, but it was just so emotional.”
“It really did set the tone,” Robinson said. “I knew from there it was going to only go up from there, that it was going to be a special night.”
It sure was. Robinson carried the ball 14 times for 211 yards and scored a touchdown on the ground. He intercepted two passes and returned both for touchdowns. He made seven tackles on defense and of course, had the opening kickoff return for another touchdown.
All totaled, Robinson scored all four of his team’s touchdowns in the emotional 27-14 win over Ferris.
For his efforts, Robinson has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Robinson said that he had no idea his yardage total until after the game was over.
“I knew I had the touchdowns,” Robinson said. “I didn’t know what I did in terms of yards. That caught me by surprise.”
Robinson said that the grueling ordeal of dealing with a teammate’s death pushed everyone on the Royal Knights’ roster to play harder.
“It made us all want to go out there and get a win for him,” Robinson said. “We weren’t going to be denied. We were not going to accept a loss.”
Garcia said that Robinson was a marked man all season long.
“He’s been getting hit more, because teams are trying to stop him,” Garcia said. “It’s sometimes frustrating for him, because he wants to make a spectacular run every time. He gets frustrated when it doesn’t happen. I told him that he can’t get 60 yards every time, but if he gets three yards, three yards and four yards, that’s a first down.”
Robinson knew that he had a much larger role with the young Knights.
“I try to be a leader and I lead by example,” Robinson said. “I know others feed off my energy. I have to be the one playing a big part in leading the team.”
Garcia admitted that Robinson had been the Royal Knights’ go-to guy all season.
“Of course, he’s been carrying us all season,” Garcia said. “We have a lot of young guys. D’Ondre has been our leader. He’s just amazing. He has the ability to cut one way, then cut back the other way. There are times where he’s run about 170 yards to go 80 yards. He’s just a spectacular player.”
Robinson has been spectacular since he arrived at Marist a little more than three years ago. He’s collected more than 6,000 yards in total offense and 44 touchdowns in his career.
“Those numbers are just crazy,” Garcia said. “He’s on the pedestal. He’s the one we will point to for the others in the program to follow. He’s one of the most phenomenal athletes I’ve ever coached. It’s amazing how hard he runs and how much he wants it. He’s the fastest kid I’ve coached and probably the fastest kid in Marist history.”
Robinson has his mind set that he would like to play college football. Temple is his first choice and the Owls’ coaching staff has shown minimal interest at this point.
“He wants to go to Temple,” Garcia said. “They like his speed and what he can do. But right now, the entire situation is a little undecided. Of course, I’m surprised he hasn’t received more offers. He’s among the tops in total yards in the state. It’s incredible he hasn’t received more.”
Robinson feels the same way.
“I’m really surprised no one has called,” Robinson said. “I do want to play in college. It’s always been my dream. I can’t get caught up in that now. I have to stay patient and keep the faith. All good things come to those who wait. I still believe they’re [college recruiters] going to come for me.”
Robinson was asked if he could comprehend that his high school career is coming to an end.
“Every time I think about it, I want to cry,” Robinson said. “I’m going to miss it a lot. But I’m not done yet. I still want to think I can go out there and do even better.”
St. Joseph’s of Hammonton, take note. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.