by Can’t Litman
Football Writer at Fox Sports College
Long before he was nominated for a Heisman candidate in Back to Texas And the best expected pick in 2023 NFL Draft, Bijan Robinson They played fantasy football games.
He would cut out pictures from game-day programs — for any player, not just a beginner — and then stick the heads onto toothpicks or popsicles. He was coordinating games, just like his grandfather did in real life.
Cleo Robinson has been hanging around Bijan idols every weekend for work, serving as the Pac-12 official for three decades, most recently as part of the league’s best instant replay crew. It was he who collected the programs to present to his grandson. Now Cleo, who retired in the spring at the age of 75, is off the field, watching his grandson’s childhood vision come true.
“I’ve been around with so many great athletes running college football,” Cleo says. “Now, it’s kind of a shock to see, ‘Hey, that’s my grandson doing this stuff now.’ ”
Bijan Robinson has been close to his grandfather Cleo, the Pac 12 official for three decades. (Photo courtesy of Terry Robinson)
While Cleo played a huge role in fueling Bijan’s love of the game, his influence runs deep – touching every part of Bijan’s life. Their relationship goes beyond the dynamism typical of a grandfather and grandson, closer to a father and son. Bijan even calls him dad.
“He loved football and I loved my dad,” says Terry Bejan’s grandmother. One of the things that tickles me when I watch it right now is [when he was little] He would always throw himself on the ground and say, “Deal with me! You interfere! Deal with me!”
“Now it’s the opposite. He hates to be dealt with and does everything he can to not be dealt with.”
Alabama will find out how hard it will be to face Robinson in Saturday’s game between Texas and Alabama #1 (noon EST on FOX and the FOX Sports app), even though Crimson Tide already knows it’s going to be a huge chore.
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“He can do everything,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Robinson this week. “He’s speed and power. He’s a very instinctive runner. He’s put up his hurdles and he’s got a blast. He’s got great hands, and he’s a good receiver. They use him in a passing game.
“This guy is as good at making a comeback as he is probably in the country.”
With expectations in Austin this season for the Longhorns to win the Big 12 behind rising star Robinson, Bijan is counting on what made him here in the first place: his family.
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Bijan’s grandparents have always been a big part of his life. When his mother, LeMore Saul, got pregnant in college, the family decided together that she would go home with her parents in Tucson, Arizona, and raise Bejan there to maintain her scholarship and her graduation. Cleo interferes with his father’s character.
It was a welcome development for both of them. Cleo and Terry have two daughters, so the women in the house outnumber the men.
Cleo remembers coming home from business trips, yelling to the girls—who were chatting in the bedroom—that he was home, and then seeing Bijan’s head pop up with a squeak: “Oh my God, it’s Dad!”
“Look [Bijan’s] His face was, ‘Get me out of here!
Soon the father (the eldest) and the son (the son) were related. When Saul married, young Bejan had the choice of moving to a new home with his mother, stepfather, and children, or continuing to live with his grandparents. He decided to stay.
“Cleo is the only father he’s ever known and what does the little boy want to leave his father on?” Terry says.
Football was an early anchor.
Bejan started playing flag football when he was five or six years old, going the wrong way to land the first two times he got the ball. He began to flaunt the moves he’d seen on TV or at Cleo games, and soon fell in love with Reggie Bush – now worn by No. 5 in Texas. (Cleo, of course, had directed the famous “Bush Bush” in 2005.)
Began and Terry attended many of the games Cleo was running, especially if they were in nearby Arizona. Young Bijan was so animated that he impressed the season ticket holders in their division.
“It got to a point where it was like four guys and they were stopping Bijan carrying on their shoulders so he had a better view of the game,” Terry says.
Aside from his growing passion for the game, there were also early signs of one of Bejan’s natural strengths: his vision. In Texas, he runs north-south, picking up short yards and rarely getting lost. It’s a skill that his grandmother noticed when he first started playing football at the age of 8 or 9.
Bijan Robinson showed an unfamiliar vision early on, once telling his grandmother Terry, “I know where I’m going before I get there.” (Photo courtesy of Terry Robinson)
“He told me, ‘I know where I’m going before I get there,’” Terry recalls. “And he looked at me as if he was able to help him understand how he knows that and I had no clue. I said, ‘You do?’ And he said, ‘Yes, when they hand me the ball, I already know where I’m going to end before I get there.’
“I thought this was interesting, but I left it there. Later, when I started hearing people talk about seeing him, I was like, ‘This is what’s going on. That was the moment I knew this was a gift from God. He didn’t ‘I don’t get it’ Also, but I think that was the point where I realized there was something different about it.”
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While Terri went to every one of Bijan’s games at Salpointe High School, Cleo had to miss most of them due to work. But he would always watch a rerun for later so the two could break up Bijan’s performance.
At Salpoint, Robinson became Arizona’s all-time career lead (7,036 yards) and touchdown captain (114) in four years. He also became the first sprint in state history to run more than 2,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. He was named Gatorade Arizona High School Football Player of the Year in 2019, and 247Sports ranked him the number one straight player and number 15 player overall in the country. The highly-nominated employee ended up choosing Texas over strength programs like Alabama, University of Southern California, Ohio State, and Notre Dame.
Last year as a sophomore in Texas, he rushed for 1,127 yards and 11 touchdowns in 10 games, missing the last two games after injuring his elbow in a loss to Kansas. With the start of the 2022 season, he became a nominee for the Heisman Trophy and Doak Walker.
And as his fame grew, so did Bijan’s business.
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Matt Lennart meets with Texas star Bijan Robinson to discuss his NIL deals, as well as his love for legendary USC running retro Reggie Bush.
From the start, Robinson’s football career has been a family affair, from his mother and grandparents supporting him at his high school games to his grandfather’s talking shop. His business dealings, which include all of his NIL page contracts, are now run by his aunt, Clerissa.
Bejan has no fewer than 10 partnerships, including C4 Energy and a Lamborghini Austin (although he only drives that on weekends and prefers to sit behind the wheel of his truck).
“I try not to take it out,” he says. “this is not me.”
The spice company recently gave him a deal and named the mustard after him: “Bejan Mustardson: Official Dijon of Bejan.”
“You see him on the football field doing what he wants, you see him in the commercials, you read about him. You’ll think, ‘What a great guy,'” his grandfather says. “Then remember: He’s just Bijan.”
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Robinson hears Heisman’s noise and sees it on social media, though he tries to ignore it.
“When you start getting into it, you start to believe it and then you work less,” he says. “So I don’t really get into it.”
But he’s feeling more confident than ever, telling reporters at Big 12 Days Media in July that he had increased from 213 pounds last season to 222 pounds.
“I can now break that extra intervention or do an extra move to get to the end zone,” he says. “I just needed to get this on my body for this season so I’ll be ready for that.”
He’s also been watching movies more importantly, including last year’s Alabama losses against Texas A&M and Georgia.
“These teams haven’t gone away,” Bejan says. “They came in there and punched them in the mouth and they didn’t stop. They didn’t give up in the third or fourth quarter. They made him a dog fighting throughout the match.
“When you match that power and understand that you need to return the same fire to them, then the games can go the way you want them to or do whatever you can to get what you want. That’s what they did and what we need to do.”
Bijan Robinson increased from 213 pounds last season to 222. “Now I can break that extra tackle or do an extra move to get into the finish zone,” he says. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)
While the Alabama game brings the most anticipation this weekend, the most special part of the Robinsons is that Cleo won’t have to miss out on the job. In fact, it will be the first time that Cleo will be able to attend Bejan’s back-to-back matches. Retirement has its perks.
When I told Bijan [I was retiring]was like, ‘yesCleo says: “We always talk after his matches, but I will only talk in generalities because I haven’t seen that. Now we can talk about the details.”
“People have tendencies to build and build it, but good things don’t help you get better. You need to know about bad things.”
That’s exactly what Bijan Robinson expects from my father.
Read more about Texas-Alabama:
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball, and soccer for FOX Sports. She has previously written for Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “As Strong as a Woman,” which was published in the spring of 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Chapter Nine. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.
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