When he was growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, new BYU running back Aidan Robbins was so much bigger and faster than other kids his age that he would often slow up during races to allow his friends to tie him, or even beat him, at the finish line.
That sort of noncompetitive attitude didn’t sit well with his father, Ron Robbins, a former college football player who got “a cup of coffee” in the form of some free agent tryouts in the NFL, and not much more.
“The guy is a total pro. He is an absolute dream to coach. The guy does everything you want on and off the field. He’s a great leader, just a totally squared away guy who is very talented.” — BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick on new RB Aidan Robbins
“Aidan was so fair and kind as a youngster that sometimes my wife (Twylia) and I would have to push him to have more of an edge,” Ron Robbins said. “I am like, ‘son, you gotta win. Nobody cares who came in second, man. There is only room at first place for one person.’”
That was about the only time that young Aidan disappointed his parents, and it didn’t last long.
“He caught on quickly that it was win or go home,” Ron Robbins told the Deseret News via telephone from his home in Louisville Monday night. “It didn’t take him long to find that competitive edge.”
Meet the latest addition to BYU’s running backs room, a big back who might be able to make fans forget about last year’s workhorse Chris Brooks and, of course, one of the best to ever don the Cougar blue — current Atlanta Falcons RB Tyler Allgeier.
But Aidan Robbins is far more than a football player; he’s an excellent student, having graduated in three years at Louisville, and was recently accepted into BYU’s MBA program in the Marriott School of Business.
“He’s a perfect kid, if I do say so myself. I know he is mine, but if he was yours I would probably say the same thing,” Ron Robbins said. “We’ve never had an issue with him. We never had to discipline him. I don’t think he has ever been spanked.”
Aidan Robbins has been in Provo since January, and through two weeks of 2023 preseason training camp this month has been every bit as good as advertised when the Cougars signed him out of the transfer portal to fill a need at the RB position. Since then, Colorado transfer Deion Smith — more of a pass-catching threat out of the backfield — has joined the room as well to give BYU plenty of depth at that critical position in Aaron Roderick’s offense.
Returners Miles Davis and Hinckley Ropati, incoming freshmen LJ Martin and Nukuluve Helu, and Utah State transfer Enoch Nawahine are also in the mix, but Robbins is clearly RB1 heading into the opener Sept. 2 against Sam Houston.
“The guy is a total pro,” Roderick said of the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Robbins the first day of fall camp. “He is an absolute dream to coach. The guy does everything you want on and off the field. He’s a great leader, just a totally squared away guy who is very talented.”
Ron Robbins acknowledges that his own athletic aspirations were cut short by failures in the classroom and too many interests outside of football, so he asked God to send him a son and vowed that he would make sure his offspring didn’t repeat his mistakes.
“How he’s turned out, I couldn’t have scripted this, man,” Ron Robbins said. “It is a joy and a blessing to be along as a tour guide. Aidan is who he is, and that is a godsend. He just does what he is supposed to do.”
Robbins, who is retired, said he “can’t take credit” for all of his son’s successes.
“It was pretty much handed to me,” he said. “From an early age he took life by the horns and made something out of himself. He has outshined everything we thought he would be. No problems, no issues, no nothing.”
For BYU, third time is the charm
The Cougars recruited Robbins hard in 2018 out of Louisville’s Manual High despite the three-star prospect (247sports.com) being across the country and not affiliated with the faith that sponsors BYU, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The No. 11 prospect in Kentucky, Robbins had offers from South Carolina, Kentucky and Vanderbilt of the SEC, in addition to many other Power Five programs.
But BYU made his final two, before he picked Louisville, because of a recruiting visit to Provo that never really left his mind.
“It was a long ways away, but we loved the place as a family,” Ron Robbins said.
Aidan Robbins shined in the classroom, getting his business administration degree in three years, but he was used sparingly on the field despite being a hometown hero, appearing in just nine games. With three years of eligibility remaining, Aidan took his talents into the transfer portal. Once again BYU jumped into the picture and went hard after him. But the Robbins’ have family in Las Vegas, and the RB decided UNLV — which had a bigger need at running back — was the place for him.
At the Mountain West school last year, Robbins averaged a respectable 4.8 yards per carry, picking up 1,011 yards and nine touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 125 yards and a TD. He had an epic game against North Texas, rushing for 227 yards and three TDs.
But the Rebels cut loose coach Marcus Arroyo at season’s end, and Robbins found himself heading back to the portal with two years of eligibility left. This time, he landed at BYU, “which is where he probably should have gone in the first place,” Ron Robbins said.
Aidan Robbins said that he was impressed by BYU’s recruitment the previous two times, and how the coaches reacted positively and without malice when he chose other schools.
“The coaches have had a good relationship with me and my family since high school, and we never forgot the way they treated us, even when I committed (elsewhere),” he said.
Said Roderick, who worked hard to get Robbins all three times, along with running backs coach Harvey Unga: “Sure, we were disappointed we lost him the first time, but I think one of the things we always do here, is if we lose out on a recruit, we always take the high road.”
Roderick said head coach Kalani Sitake stresses to recruiters that “even if you are upset or sad that you lost the guy, you never (say anything negative). I think that’s what happened with Puka (Nacua), too. We were disappointed to lose out on Puka to Washington, but we wished him well and said, ‘Hey, go do your thing.’”
Roderick said the “same thing happened with Aidan. We wished him well. And then we hoped that if it didn’t work out, he would remember us and see if we still had a need.”
Sitake stresses love and learning in recruiting, too
Coincidentally, Aidan Robbins became good friends with new BYU receiver Keelan Marion, from UConn, when they were both starting out at the East Coast schools after being introduced by a mutual friend. Also, both their mothers live in Atlanta.
When Robbins hit the portal the first time, Marion reached out and tried to get him to UConn.
“I ended up going to UNLV and then coming to BYU, and then he hit the portal and I got him to BYU,” Robbins said. “That’s what happens. Brothers take care of one another, man, and that is truly my brother.”
Marion had actually committed to East Carolina, but had a change of heart and decided to join Robbins in Provo. Marion said he was impressed with the way BYU receivers coach Fesi Sitake handled the news when Marion told him he was going to play for the Pirates.
“When I committed to ECU, coach Fesi still called and congratulated me. There was never (any) bad blood or anything,” Marion said. “And once I decommitted he reached out and it went from there.”
Kalani Sitake said after Saturday’s first scrimmage of camp that his program prides itself on not burning any bridges with recruits, and in both these cases that paid off.
“That’s what it has got to be about. That’s our culture and that is right in alignment with our church, and definitely our university,” Sitake said. “And our administration appreciates that. And more than anything our fans appreciate that. That is who we are and we will continue to do that. I don’t think recruiting is stressing a kid. It is the right way to do it.”
Echoing Roderick, the head coach said Robbins has been everything they thought he would be, even if the bruising back missed the contact portions of spring camp due to January wrist surgery.
“You have to remember that we had a relationship with Aidan from the beginning, when he was deciding between us and Louisville out of high school. So there was a little bit of a difference between his (story) and other transfers,” Sitake said. “It is nice to have him back here. In terms of the fit, he fits everything we are looking for off the field, and he definitely does it on the field as well.”
From Louisville to Las Vegas, then ‘friendly’ Provo
Louisville and Las Vegas are large metropolitan areas full of night life and other temptations for a college student. Provo, not so much. And that’s just how Robbins likes it.
“Yeah, but I am fine here,” he said in April. “I am not going to lie. It is a chill environment. I have been bored at times. But I am a homebody, too. So I kinda like it. Can’t really get into trouble like back home. It is definitely a great area to be in. I enjoy it.”
He said visiting BYU back when he was in high school gave him a “good idea” what the place was like and “how friendly it was,” so there haven’t been any surprises now that he’s a longer-term resident.
When Robbins got to UNLV, it was too late to get into an MBA program. Instead, he was put into a master’s program for urban leadership. Getting admitted into BYU’s MBA program was no easy feat, he said.
“It is an extensive admissions process, for sure,” he noted.
If football doesn’t work out, Robbins’ dream job is to be executive director of former player services for the NFLPA, a position currently held by Nolan Harrison III. They’ve connected on LinkedIn, but haven’t met in person.
Obviously, Robbins’ immediate future is of more pressing concern. Expectations are high for Robbins, recently one of 75 running backs named to the watch list for the Doak Walker Award, and he knows it.
“That is fine, man,” he said of the expectations. “With great power comes great responsibility. I am not really worried about the outside noise. I am just worried about coming here to the facility and doing my job each and every day.”
— BYU FOOTBALL (@BYUfootball) August 9, 2023
Robbins said he has “some numerical goals” that he isn’t willing to share just yet. He has them as the screen saver on his cellphone and a physical copy of his goals hang in his bedroom in Provo.
“I will let you all know after the season,” he said. “I just want to play football. That’s it. I am really excited to get into the Big 12 with these guys just became my teammates haven’t played in a Power Five conference. A lot of these guys have been independent their whole time here and they don’t know what it is like to play for something, play for a conference title. I am really excited to go through this journey with these guys.”
For his part, Ron Robbins won’t be surprised if his son takes the Cougars to immediate success in the Big 12. He saw it coming years ago.
“When Aidan was in the third grade, playing soccer, I was watching him run up and down the field, and I just noticed his stride — it looked effortless,” Ron Robbins said. “He has a little gallop to him, with those long legs.”
Ron Robbins said he had “a vision” at the time that Aidan would become a big-time athlete.
“I just knew at that point this was a road we were supposed to travel, and I guess I am the tour guide to kinda put him in the right places,” Ron Robbins said. “Through the course of that, I knew what his calling was going to be. I just had to put him in the right place and around the right people. And let God do what he does. And that is kinda how the story has been going.”