East Carolina’s second-year running backs coach Re’quan Boyette was roaming around his old stomping grounds in Durham late last year when he dropped into Hillside High School.
Although a native of Wilson in Eastern NC, Boyette spent 14 years of his life in Durham as a player and then coach at Duke University. And Hillside has long been a developing ground for college football prospects, having produced such future NFL players as Tommy Wilson, Charles Romes and Greg Little as well as college standouts like Dwight Sullivan, Emmett Tilley and Vad Lee.
During the visit at Hillside, Boyette established a connection with the latest Hornets’ football standout, Tiyyan Robinson.
“He (Boyette) stopped by that day, then, about a month later he offered me a scholarship,” Robinson said. “The connection just got tighter from there with East Carolina.”
The relationship with ECU reached a point in mid-August that led the 6-foot-5, 210-pound edge rusher to issue a verbal commitment to the Pirates. Robinson picked ECU over a list of other scholarship offers from Austin Peay, Bowling Green, Charlotte, Eastern Michigan, Florida A&M, Georgia State, Miami Ohio, N.C. Central, Ohio, Temple and South Florida.
Robinson, who just turned 17 in August, also received interest from Appalachian State, Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina, Florida State and Virginia Tech. He actually took an unofficial visit to Cincinnati in March and attended FSU’s Seminole Showcase Camp in July. But receiving insight from several ECU players, including junior defensive lineman Chad Stephens, during an official recruiting trip to Greenville on June 24 convinced Robinson to become a Pirate.
“I talked with a lot of the players,” he said. “The thing I was interested to know is how things were run there from a player’s perspective. A lot of coaches will tell you what you want to hear. But talking with players one-on-one you get the true picture.
“I spent a lot of time with Chad and a few of the other defensive linemen. They really sold me on what is going on there.”
The commitment by Robinson is just another step toward a football goal he established at an early age. Robinson grew up in Concord before moving to Durham as a six-year-old. It was after the move to Durham that he began playing football and would compete for a number of local Pop Warner clubs, including the Durham Eagles, Carolina Mustangs and Durham Firebirds. He played on teams that twice reached the Pop Warner national championships in Florida.
“When I was a kid, I always wanted to play in the NFL, and I still do,” Robinson said. “I was always the biggest and fastest kid, which is how I got my nickname, Turbo. I was just better than everyone else.
“But it wasn’t until my ninth- and 10th-grade years in high school that things really took off. After my ninth-grade year I knew I was going to play in college.”
Robinson’s freshman season was the COVID-19 year, which forced the high school football season in North Carolina to be moved to the spring. After starting the season on the junior varsity, Robinson received a late promotion to the varsity. He earned a starting job at end as a sophomore and blossomed into a star last season when he collected 33 total tackles, six tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and intercepted two passes.
The 2023 season has seen Robinson off to an impressive start. Through the first four games he had 16 tackles, nine tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. In a season-opening 20-12 win against Panther Creek, Robinson produced six total tackles and five tackles for loss.
Robinson credits new Hillside coach Torrey Nowell for pushing him to become a better player. Nowell came to Hillside in June after leading New Bern High School to the state 4-A title.
“Coming to Hillside, he gave me some tough love because he knew what I was capable of doing,” Robinson said. “One of the things he wanted me to do is get into a three-point stance like a natural defensive end.
“In that first game, I went back to my two-point stance and got exposed on the very first play. He took me out and got on me a little bit and told me to get back to what I’d been taught to do. The next play I was in the three-point stance, did a double swipe on the offensive lineman and forced a fumble.”
Robinson is already planning to make similar plays for the Pirates in 2024. He expects to graduate from Hillside in December and enroll at ECU in January.
“I describe myself as a dog,” Robinson said. “I have a high motor. My strength is my pass rushing. I think I’m one of the best pass rushers in the nation. But I’m versatile. I have long arms and I can cover. I had two picks last season and I’m looking for more this year.
“Because I’m a versatile player I want to come in at ECU and make an impact from the jump. I hope to jump in on the special teams really early.”