Berdale Robins was walking home after a late Tuesday class last September when he started to scroll through his social media accounts on his iPhone.
“RIP D’Morea Robins,” one post read.
Robins’ mind scrambled. D’Morea was his half-brother, his playful partner in crime since their youth.
“It just broke my heart,” Berdale said of learning via social media that his 20-year-old brother had died. “It was pretty hard.”
Berdale remembers his brother for his smile and his demeanor. Few things could sour D’Morea’s disposition and keep him from laughing and loving life. But Los Angeles “street life caught up with him and he got murdered,” as Berdale put it.
Robins has five brothers but was especially close with D’Morea, who was just a year older. He remembers the good times they spent together playing as children.
“He was with his mom during the week and he’d come over during the weekend and we’d always go to the park, ride our bikes, roam the neighborhood, do kids stuff, play basketball,” Robins said.
Last week marked the one-year anniversary of D’Morea’s death. Berdale’s mind was on his brother all week leading into the Wolf Pack’s game against Oregon State. During that game, Robins honored his brother by nabbing his first college interception on a crucial fourth-quarter play in the 37-35 victory.
“I talked to my brother and God throughout the day,” Robins, a sophomore cornerback, said after the win.
Robins wasn’t expected to play heavy snaps against the Beavers. But an injury to starter EJ Muhammad pushed him into a larger workload, and Robins delivered one of the game's biggest plays. After Oregon State cut its deficit to 30-21, the Beavers were in the red zone pushing for another score when Robins stepped in front of a Jake Luton pass inside the 10-yard line.
“It was kind of shaky at the beginning,” Robins said. “I just had to tell myself, ‘It’s just football. Same as high school, just different speeds.’ That’s when everything started to kick in.”
After the game, Robins earned a game ball, which he plans on inscribing with quotes in memory of his brother before putting it in a glass case back home in Southern California. Robins shard an emotional phone call with his parents after the game.
“My family was very happy,” Robins said with a smile. “They were supposed to come out here but they couldn’t find a sitter for my grandma, who had a stroke. It was very emotional.”
Robins has a survivor’s mentality. Listed 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, he’s one of the smallest players on Nevada’s roster. He also struggled to get academically eligible for college. A class clown in high school, he earned three Fs as a prep freshman and was eligible for only two games as a sophomore. He then transferred to Los Angeles High, which was coached by current Nevada assistant Eric Scott, where he upped his grades in the classroom and dominated as a two-way player on the field.
“He’s just really competitive, a super competitive guy,” Nevada head coach Jay Norvell said. “He played offense and defense and was a return man. Sometimes those little guys just have a little extra edge to them. He certainly has that, and what a great break on the ball (versus Oregon State). He’s a guy who tragically lost his brother and he kind of played honoring him. I’m just so proud of how he’s hung in there and overcome adversity.”
Robins said he didn’t start loving football until the game was taken away from him because of his bad grades. But he made up ground to become an NCAA academic qualifier and led L.A. High to a city championship with a two-touchdown effort on offense while shutting down future college players on defense during the 2016 season.
But given his size (or lack thereof) and early academic struggles, scholarship offers weren’t forthcoming. Robbins only had Division II offers from Dixie State and Western New Mexico before Nevada offered him the week of signing day. Robbins gobbled up the offer and joined the team last season, playing seven games as a true freshman, largely on special teams while practicing as a two-way player.
Focused on defense this season, Robins has 12 tackles and six passes defended (tied for the 11th most in the nation) through three games. He had three pass breakups plus the interception against Oregon State and will play a big role as Nevada plays Saturday at Toledo, which is loaded with strong pass-catchers.
“He’s more of a gamer,” Nevada cornerbacks coach David Lockwood said. “We’ve talked about doing a better job during the week preparing because you kind of play how you practice. But he’s a football player. He has good feet, turns his feet over and he’s starting to play bigger than he’s listed. And the biggest thing is he’s playing with some confidence, which is 90 percent of the battle right there.”
While Robins’ size is a physical limitation, it has hardened him and boosted his self-confidence. He might give up half a foot to Wolf Pack receivers in practice, but that hasn’t dented what he believes is possible.
“I just don’t think about it,” Robins said of his size. “I was smaller than this in high school and went up against No. 1 receivers. I don’t think about it because at the end of the day you still have to line up and get past me."
In addition to his play in the secondary, it was Robins who made a diving attempt to block the last-second 33-yard field goal by Oregon State’s Jordan Choukair, which was yanked to the left as Robins heated up Choukair from the right. In the win over Oregon State, Robins said the Wolf Pack showed a fight it had previously lacked in contested games.
As for Robins, he’ll remember his game ball forever after dedicating it to his brother.
“That ball is for him,” Lockwood said. “He’ll have those memories for the rest of his life. I'm happy for him.”
Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.