Thibodaux’s Amik Robertson established himself among Louisiana’s top DBs — even with a torn ACL

No other defensive backs appeared in any hurry to match up against Devonta Smith.

So Amik Robertson headed to the line against the Amite star, arguably Louisiana’s top wide receiver for the 2017 recruiting class.

“I had heard a lot of guys before the drill kind of like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna do this,’ or ‘I’m gonna do that,’” Robertson explains, setting the scene of the Jan. 24 camp in New Orleans. “So when one-on-one drills started, Devonta was the first one up there to start running routes. Me, being the underdog, I didn’t want to be too greedy, so I didn’t wanna fly up there. But I didn’t see anyone go up there, so me as a competitive guy, me and him went face to face.

Amik Robertson scores touchdown

Thibodaux standout Amik Robertson established himself as one of Louisiana’s best 2017 cornerback prospects — even while playing on an undiagnosed torn ACL. (Courtesy of Klint Landry)

“It was good D, but he winded up catching the ball, because his feet were so big, and when we were wrestling for the ball, I ended up tripping up with his feet and falling. But at the end of the day, I knew it was good D, but that I just made one false step.”

The exchange was a minor and rare misstep on an afternoon in which the Thibodaux standout bolstered his case as one of the state’s top prospects.

A bigger challenge to his confidence was waiting at home where his father, Arthur Watts, had received a surprising message from the doctor Amik had visited that week for what he considered a precautionary visit.

“I just figured it was probably some soreness or something,” Amik remembers, “Until they said, ‘No, it’s a torn ACL.’ And that’s when I just broke down. I didn’t know what to do.

“It was really a big stab in my heart because I had put in a lot of work. I put a lot of work in, and to just have a devastating injury like that, I was thinking, ‘Why would God choose me out of everybody — out of everybody — when I was just doing what I was supposed to be doing, just trying to get better?’ By me tearing my ACL, I just thought it was the end for me.”

Robertson hadn’t felt at risk of losing football since the fourth grade.

But that fear blindsided him like an illegal block that evening.

Maybe even more so, though, he was confused.

The 5-foot-9, 157-pound cornerback had actually suffered the major knee injury about three months earlier, the doctor estimated.

Robertson first noticed the pain during practice for the week of the Tigers’ game Oct. 23 against St. Augustine.

“I kinda iced it down and limited myself and tried to stretch it out a little, and as the days went on, I felt better and better, and I played on it,” he says. “Then after the St. Aug game, probably the Bootleggers camp, I was working out and I kind of tweaked it when I was working out, but I didn’t really think anything of it, so I continued to play.

“I thought I just sprained it some more and probably about two minutes later I played with it again.”

Robertson had already played four football games — including matchups against three of the top 12 seeds in the Class 5A playoffs — and spent the first few months of his offseason training for a summer that could determine his football future.

“It swelled up a couple of times — that’s why I said I had to keep icing it,” he says. “I thought it was probably just sore, because I was working out three times a day, so I didn’t think much about it. But my dad said the swelling didn’t look good — it looked liked a balloon or something — so my mom and dad just wanted to go to the doctor to be on the smart side.

“And it ended up I was working out three times a day with a torn ACL … The doctors say my ACL was pretty much gone, but I had a little bit still there.”

The news was a lot to handle for a young player who had never had an injury cost him notable time away from football.

His grades slipped early in his fourth-grade year, though, and his mother quickly used the sport to teach Amik the significance of his academics.

“That’s very important to them,” he says emphatically. “That’s very important in my household. That’s very important to my mom. She tells me a lot, ‘You can’t go nowhere without your grades.’ When I first realized that I needed that, I think I had probably a 0.24 on my report card, and she took football away, and it just stabbed me in my heart.

“Ever since then, I’ve been a 3.0 student. Grades are very important. My pops stresses that a lot to me, too, and really even my community stresses that a lot to me. Everybody wants to see me live out my dreams.”

Even then, disappointing his overwhelming support system may have stung as much as any other past of his absence.

“I was probably one of the best players in the area, so I wasn’t the only one hurt,” he says. “Everyone in my family and in my community was expecting to see me, so that’s what hurt was letting them down, and that’s how I knew I had to change my attitude and change my grades and fix my personality. It just made me a better person.”

Confirms Kima Robertson: “He’s come a long way, a long way. He’s changed quite a bit, and he does what he’s got to do now… He’s changed a whole lot. He’s brought his grades up. He doesn’t get in trouble or anything like that. He’s a real good child.”

Still, Amik sees his most viable path to college coming through a football scholarship.

And to say his options in that regard were limited at the time of his injury would be an understatement.

His only offer to that point had come from Tulane under former coach Curtis Johnson, who had been fired in November.

And he wasn’t sure what type of opportunities he might have now as he tried to work back from the injury and a Feb. 1 surgery to repair it.

“I thought I would never be the same, and I thought a lot of schools were gonna pass me up,” he says. “A lot of schools had already passed me up … The toughest part wasn’t me rehabbing, because I attacked it so hard. The toughest part was me not being able to compete. Me knowing in my heart that I’m just as good as these guys, but that I can’t show off my talent. That was probably the hardest part, not being able to attend a lot of camps, because this summer was supposed to be a big summer for me.”

And he didn’t want to let his family and community down again.

“That plays a big part,” he says. “I know my family comes first, but my community also has made me who I am. When I struggled, they’d be by my side. When I didn’t have nothing, they stuck with me throughout the process. They’ve been the same. They didn’t change. They just want to see me live out my dreams. They don’t treat me different. They treat me as the same kid. My community just shows me 100 percent love, and I salute them for that.”

Hometown Nicholls State offered Jan. 26.

And then Robertson’s recruitment exploded three weeks later.

Toledo, Louisiana-Lafayette, Cincinnati, ULM, Arizona, Texas-San Antonio and Colorado State offered during a 10-day span in mid-February.

Then Kansas State in March.

And Purdue, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss and South Alabama in May.

“Offers just started pouring in,” he says. “Maybe everything happened for a reason … A lot of them didn’t know (about the injury), but some of them knew, but they didn’t care. Like Kansas State, Arizona, UL, Nicholls, they knew, but they didn’t care. They told me, ‘Nowadays a torn ACL is like a sprained ankle. You can still be the same play. You just have to attack rehab.’ They said I had a lot of potential, and they weren’t just gonna pass me up. They were gonna take a chance, so I respect them for that.

“It means a lot. It kinds of shows me that even though I was hurt, I can still be even better, because I did all that when I was hurt and when I was not even 100 percent. So they respect me at not even 100 percent of me, period. They respected me as a 75 percent Amik Robertson, so they’re gonna respect me more as 100 percent Amik Robertson.”

With one good knee, Robertson rebounded Jan. 24 from his stumble against Smith.

He shadowed 2018 Kansas target Yo’Heinz Taylor toward the sideline, stride for stride, on one play, then quickly spun around, out-leaped the 6-foot-5 wide receiver and high-pointed the ball for one of his three interceptions.

“I didn’t feel like I was hurt at all,” he says. “I felt my break was good, and my hips were great. (Coaches) called me to the side to tell me my hips were great. I had a great camp, so that’s why when I had went to the hospital, I was kind of like, ‘Why am I here? Why do I need to be here?’”

Robertson feels back to 100 percent, but is anxiously awaiting clearance from his doctor when he visits again July 22 before claiming that distinction.

Imagine his potential with two healthy knees and, for that matter, a confidence that appeared to heal along the same timeline.

He — and a growing list of college coaches — can’t help but do so.

And opposing players should probably be worried.

“Cornerbacks should be 100 percent scared,” Robertson says. “Wide receivers should be 100 percent scared. Wide receivers should expect a lot of aggressiveness, a lot of talk, a lot of competitiveness. And also on offense. Right now, my confidence is so high, the only person who can probably stay in the ring with me right now, athlete-wise, as a wide receiver or cornerback, is probably Devonta Smith. I respect him 100 percent.

“I think I can compete with anybody. I can line up as a cornerback or a wide receiver, and I think I can compete with anybody on both sides of the ball.”

*************

Jerit Roser can be reached at Jerit@DatBoot.com.



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