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When Bijan Robinson started at Salpointe High School, the football coaching staff didn't know him but they knew of him.

The buzz about the running back traveled all around Tucson, Arizona, percolating into the Phoenix metro area. Robinson's Pop Warner days earned him a stellar reputation as a national championship and generational talent.

But notoriety alone didn't carry much weight at Salpointe. At the most prominent football school in the area, it was unheard of for a freshman to make varsity. The program had more than enough talent for a more than formidable team made up of upperclassmen, Salpointe former assistant coach Al Alexander said.

Despite the vehement protest from Robinson's grandmother, they made the decision to stick with precedent and added Robinson to the JV roster.

Then Robinson scored eight touchdowns in one game, Alexander recalled, casting major doubt into the status quo for freshmen.

"I think the second time he touched the ball, he went for 70. It was a little hole and he squeezed through going sideways running full speed, Alexander said, "and I was like – that's different. I said…'this kid is special.'"


Alexander turned to Salpointe head coach Dennis Benne and said, "Coach, that's not fair. It's not fair for the other kids."

When Robinson later jumped over a defender, Alexander said he reached this dude is ridiculous status.

So, they moved him up to varsity and the rest is written in the record books. He finished high school with a state-record 114 touchdowns and a second-best 7,036 rushing yards on 13.4 yards per carry.

It wasn't a surprise to those at Salpointe to see Robinson's stardom unfold, first as a top recruit, then a standout collegiate career at Texas and now with the Atlanta Falcons. Alexander wasn't surprised that Robinson has gone viral on more than one occasion in his NFL rookie season.

On Robinson's first NFL touchdown, he juked out multiple defenders with quick, impeccable footwork to reach the end zone that has earned Allen Iverson comparisons from Arthur Smith. At the halfway point in the season, he's done it again and again, always drawing oohs and ahhs from fans.

Robinson is new to NFL fans, but Tucson has seen all this before.

"I think he redefined the jump step," Alexander said.

Salpointe's current head coach, Eric Rodgers, was an assistant coach when Robinson attended. Rogers remembers when he first saw Robinson make a defender miss and look silly.

"I was standing right there on the side and I'm like, 'Oh my, I've never seen anybody do that, Rodgers said. "I mean, it was just the pure strength, power."

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Robinson's running backs coach at Salpointe runs drills with current players in an attempt to emulate Robinson's skills. Though, as Rodgers will note, you can only teach so much of what Robinson can intrinsically do.

Robinson left off-the-field imprints on the community, too.

There was another moment when Alexander realized that Robinson was special, but this time it wasn't about his natural abilities. It was about his humility and willingness to learn.

Before offensive meetings Robinson was required to attend, he took the initiative to take part in the offensive line meetings as well, to better understand line calls and learn the game inside out.

"That's not normal for a 10th-grade kid to be coming into our linemen meetings," Alexander said. "He took advantage of every little aspect to be the best player on the football field."

Now, it's standard practice for running backs at Salpointe and Sahuaro High School, where Alexander is currently the head coach.

"I wanted to be advanced in the game and wanted to be more than just the gift that I've been given," Robinson said. "I like to see different holes, see different schemes and just do different things to open up myself and open up my knowledge of the game to give other players as well."

Robinson's leadership stuck out most to Rodgers. Rogers remembers Robinson doing a pregame prayer each week, first by himself. By the end of the season, up to 40 teammates took a knee alongside him.

"He was just a tremendous leader," Rodgers said. "That's just the kind of guy he was, his character. How he resonated with his teammates was extremely special."

While Robinson is still young, he's quickly becoming a role model for younger players in Tucson as one of the best high-school players to come out of, not only the city, but the entire state.

Tucson is just under two hours from Phoenix, and while any University of Arizona alum would disagree, it's the little brother of Arizona. The same goes for high school football; Salpointe is the only school down south in the state's most competitive division.

"Phoenix is the big boys, and the years we had Bijan, we played with the big boys," Alexander said. "He made Tucson relevant."

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Robinson was the highest NFL draft pick out of Tucson and the second-highest in Arizona.

In the offseason, Robinson hopes to return to his hometown and help out with summer workouts, inspiring the next generation of Tucson athletes.

Kyle Hinton is the other Arizona native on the Falcons roster. Hinton graduated and took off to play at Washburn University just before Robinson started his freshman season, but Hinton still caught wind of the running back sensation.

Across the Arizona prep sports sphere, all Hinton would hear was "Bijan Robinson this, five-star recruit this." Now, after seeing Robinson up close with the Falcons, he understands all the fanfare.

"It's crazy he's here now and he's living up to all the (hype)," Hinton said. "(He's) probably one of the greatest high school players out of Arizona right now."

When the Falcons travel next week to face the Arizona Cardinals, Robinson said it'll be a homecoming game.

"For him to call Tucson his home, I think that it's very, very special to our community," Rodgers said.

Alexander echoed the sentiment, noting that Tucson and the state of Arizona as a whole stand behind him.

Bus loads of family and friends plan to make the trip up to Glendale, Arizona, to watch the rookie play. In some cases, quite literally buses, as his grandmother is organizing two party buses with her church.

"Being a guy that Tucson has looked up to for a long time, it will be like putting on for that city (and) for Phoenix," Robinson said. "It's gonna be special."

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