Barry University doesn’t have a football team — but one of the school’s graduates is in the NFL.
Jevoni Robinson, who hasn’t played a football game since he caught one pass as a senior at Independence High in Charlotte, N.C., recently signed a free agent contract with the NFL’s Houston Texans, who placed him on their practice roster as a tight end.
“The Texans have to be intrigued,” said Barry basketball coach Butch Estes, who worked with Robinson for one year in his former sport. “Jevoni has great hands — glue, Velcro hands.
“He is six-foot-eight with a 38- or 39-inch vertical leap, and he can almost touch the top of the backboard. It’s ridiculous.”
That’s almost an understatement. Robinson’s story probably wouldn’t pass the Hollywood believability test — except that it’s true.
A native of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, Robinson grew up running track and playing cricket, rugby and soccer. He moved to Charlotte with his father in time for his junior year of high school, playing just one year of football as a skinny six-foot-two wide receiver.
He did not play high school basketball and attended North Carolina Central University as a non-athlete student.
After a serious growth spurt and one year at NC Central, he transferred to a bigger school, North Carolina State. Once there, he emailed the basketball coach at the time, Bobby Lutz, hoping for a tryout.
But all he heard back was crickets.
Fortunately, an NC State team manager saw Robinson dunk in an open-gym setting, and word finally reached Lutz.
Subsequent to that, Robinson made the team as a lightly used backup, earned his bachelor’s degree at NC State and transferred to Barry for his final season.
Robinson averaged 5.4 points and 6.8 rebounds in that one season at Barry, remaining at the school until August 2016, when he completed his work on a master’s degree in sport management.
From there, Robinson signed to play with a second-division pro basketball team in Italy. But by then, his dream of playing football again had taken hold.
Robinson kept thinking back to his one high school catch, when he didn’t even know all the rules of a sport he never played in Jamaica.
“It was one of my greatest feelings ever,” Robinson said of his high school catch. “I caught it with my chest (instead of hands), and I wanted to do it again.”
When he got back from Italy, Robinson began seriously training for football.
“Jevoni is goal-oriented,” Estes said. “Once he got that football thing in his head, there was no nonsense.”
Back home in Charlotte, Robinson caught the attention of agent Robert Walker, who noticed his obvious athletic gifts.
“But we didn’t sign him initially,” Walker said. “We waited two months to make sure he really wanted this, and when I saw his commitment, I knew he had it in his soul.”
Once he had his agent and was set up with a trainer and nutritionist, Robinson transformed his body as he prepared for the hard-hitting rigors of the NFL. He went from 225 pounds to 242, and he made the rounds, trying out for the Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Finally, this past Dec. 23, Robinson, 25, was signed by the Texans.
“It was the best Christmas present I could ever receive,” he said.
Robinson wouldn’t be the first basketball player to make the switch to football, and that’s especially true at the tight end position.
Tight end Jimmy Graham, who played basketball for Estes when both were at the University of Miami, switched to football for one season at UM and has since become a five-time Pro Bowl player.
Tight end Anthony Gates went undrafted after a college basketball career at Kent State and then became an eight-time Pro Bowl player.
Tony Gonzalez, perhaps the greatest tight end in NFL history, played college football and college basketball at Cal.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Demetrius Harris did not play college football, and the same is true for Indianapolis Colts tight end Erik Swoope. Both were college basketball players, and Swoope played his ball at Miami.
As for Robinson, Estes said he is “super smart” and would be very surprised if he didn’t make it in the NFL.
“This is a new chapter in my life,” Robinson said. “Having no football experience, I’m like an invader. I don’t expect anything to be handed to me.
“I have to show them I belong in the NFL.”