“I just wanted to do something different.”
It may as well replace fiat lux as the Berkeley motto, but those words came from the last remaining five-star in the 2016 class, Demetris Robertson, speaking about his decision to announce his commitment to California on May 1 with a watercolor painting, which, of course, was hung upside down.
"Something just had to go wrong," he laughs.
Not much goes wrong for Robertson in the world of sports. He's a three-sport letterman. He had 52 scholarship offers to choose from. He could have wallpapered several rooms with the amount of recruiting mail he received.
He led the Savannah (Ga.) Savannah Christian Prep basketball team in scoring, with 14.9 points per game this season. He was the No. 23 football player in the 2016 class. This past weekend, he won the GHSA Class A state title in the 100m (10.51 seconds) and came in second in the long jump 23' 3.75", earning his way to winning the state track and field Athlete of the Year award.
His numbers read like a cheat code: 107 carries for 1,043 yards and nine touchdowns, 12 catches for 126 yards and one more touchdown, 149 kick return yards, 145 punt return yards, 41 tackles and two interceptions. He was a lockdown corner on defense, and an electric playmaker on offense.
“I’ve had five-star freshmen come in and make the freshman All-American team, and I’ve had five-star receivers come in and just kind of not compete," says Cal offensive coordinator Jake Spavital. "You don’t want to put them in that spot, and put that kind of pressure on them, but I think he's going to do good things for us. I think he’s an unbelievable talent, and he’s going to help this team out a lot.”
But, for all his achievements on the field, Robertson is also an artist.
He's got stacks of drawing pads sitting in storage, filled with his landscape drawings. He took Advanced Placement Art this year.
Robertson painted the Cal logo piece that accompanied his announcement the night before his commitment. It took him about an hour.
His college decision, though, took quite a bit longer -- nearly three months after National Signing Day, to be precise.
"He looked at every possible angle and every possible benefit of choosing a school," says Cal head coach Sonny Dykes. "We never pressured him. We never put any kind of time frame on him, and we just hung in there with him, because we felt all along that we had a great chance because of the way that visit went."
That visit, back on Oct. 3, was one that Robertson took by himself.
"He visited by himself, most importantly," Carlos says. "He didn't have a lot of pushing or prodding from me about it. He went out there on his own, and came to his own conclusions about California."
Robertson is rarely alone. His older brother, Carlos, has been a constant presence during his recruitment. His twin sister Shanetris will be accompanying him to Berkeley to run track. But, the first trip he made was all by his lonesome. At least, it started out that way.
Robertson came to those conclusions with a little bit of help from someone who, like Robertson, has always wanted to do things differently, another top-ranked Georgia athlete who came west: Jaylen Brown.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1666036-cal-lands-final-pi... “That resonated with him, his recruitment, and him leaving the state,” says inside receivers coach Jacob Peeler, Robertson's primary recruiter. “It was a big thing for us, the similarities between the two – highly recruited, highly sought-after kids, leaving Georgia to come to the West Coast.”
Robertson says he knows he'll be homesick, and his mom has lamented him going so far away, but Brown dealt with the same thing. The two shared the same resolve.
"There will be some disappointment with everybody here in the state," Robertson says. "I want to do what's best for me and my family. I know what my future holds, and I know what I want ... The support system that Cal-Berkeley has, and where that degree goes, they can take me to the next level, where I want to me. I always told myself that I'd rather have a million-dollar business than a million-dollar contract in the NFL."
Like Brown -- who knows plenty of being different, himself -- Robertson can have an immediate impact in Berkeley, alongside early enrollee Melquise Stovall. In fact, the tandem of receivers may have already had one.
“I think those guys bring credibility, from a recruiting standpoint," says Spavital. "I think that’s huge. I really do. I’ve had more recruits send me twitter messages, about how fired up they are, that’s a big deal for a lot of the kids, who have been at all these showcases. They see these players come out, and that’s a big deal."
Before his visit, Robertson knew of Brown, what with the two growing up four hours apart in Georgia, and both playing on the AAU basketball circuit (even though he was headed to college for football, Robertson averaged a team-best 14.9 points this year for his Savannah Christian Prep team). But, Robertson hadn't met Brown until he came on his official visit in October.
The two ran into one another, and struck up a conversation.
“Really, we just talked about what he felt about Cal, why he went to Cal. He’s really similar to me -- leaving the state, and he wants to start his own business," Robertson says. “I already had the idea that I could go out there and succeed. I have a mindset to do what I need to do, in football, family and tack, but it had a big impact, just being a top-ranked guy from Georgia, coming from Georgia to Cal and going to be a top pick.”
The two bonded instantly.
“That’s the type of guy that I am – I like to venture off a little bit, do my own thing," says Robertson of his similarities to Brown.
“When I met with him on Sunday morning [at the end of the visit], I remember him coming in, and I thought there was a chance he could commit, right then," Dykes says. "I remember him saying, ‘Coach, I really felt at home, and I felt the family atmosphere in this program, I really clicked with the players,’ and the academics were a big part of it. The kid wants to be challenged, academically, and I think he felt like he was going to have a chance to grow, academically, and be pushed, and I think that’s what he wants.”
"When I went there," Robertson says, "it felt like home."
In early December, Peeler flew down to Savannah, to meet with the Robertson brothers, Demetris and Carlos, for dinner.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1664102-demetris-robertson... "I had my iPad, and the kid, I kid you not, went though every single Power Point on the iPad, every single video," Peeler says.
Robertson had already been on his visit, and he knew what Cal had to offer, but he was meticulous -- he wanted to see it again, to relive it, to make sure that the feelings he felt in October had firm bedrock beneath them.
"He put his ear plugs in and looked at every single thing that we had, in terms of what the campus life is like, what dorm life is like, what the Life After Ball offered," Peeler says. "That was the first time I've ever seen that, where a kid literally looked at everything. Honestly, at that point, I had an inkling of if, how mature he was, how much the education aspect mattered, but it was at that moment where I knew this kid was truly, everything he said about wanting that degree, wanting to own his own business one day, that dawned on me at that moment. He started asking so many questions, and I knew that he truly cared."
After Signing Day came and went, Peeler flew down to Georgia, and sat at a track meet for five hours. "I got beyond sunburned," he said, but for a good cause.
"I sat out there in my Cal polo and slacks, and hung in there, all day," he laughs. "I had the fortune of watching him play basketball before Signing Day,and I told him, 'If this keeps going, I'm going to watch you run track,' and obviously, it did. I just wanted to be there for support, more than anything."
At that meet, Robertson ran a 10.55 in the 100-meter dash, setting a personal best, at the time.
It was the low-pressure approach by the Bears that appealed to the soft-spoken Robertson, who signed a financial aid agreement with Cal on March 8, allowing unlimited contact with the staff. He also signed agreements with Georgia and Georgia Tech.
"It was stressful," Robertson says. "All the coaches and fans were on you, and I get it everywhere I go. In Georgia, it's different."
There was pressure to stay home, and Robertson felt it. While the Bulldogs' Kirby Smart repeatedly trumpeted how much Georgia needed Robertson -- mentioning him by name in multiple media availabilities -- the Bears kept quiet, publicly. Robertson didn't draw out his recruitment for more attention. He did it because he wanted to give the decision all the consideration he could muster. Cal let him do that.
"That was a conversation that me and him had," Peeler says, of the differing approaches. “Me going in there, guns blazing, saying, ‘Pick Cal, pick Cal, pick Cal,’ that would only have hurt the situation. I think he appreciated how we honestly were just there for him, and honestly were just there to show support, instead of trying to beat the kid to death with why Cal is better than any other school. He knew what Cal had to offer from his official visit.”
“The life after ball program that we have, the connections that he was going to have, he wanted to live on the West Coast and experience a different part of the country. His family is back in Georgia, and he’ll get a Go Bears every time he lands in Atlanta, because we’re everywhere. The Cal brand reaches everywhere. He knew that, and I think that was something that was important to him, to get into that network base of the Cal community.” -- Sonny Dykes
On Jan. 18, Dykes and Peeler met with the Robertson brothers at a Buffalo Wild Wings. Much like Cal's approach with Demetris, Dykes went with the mild sauce. Peeler went with lemon pepper, hot. Demetris gulped down glass after glass of lemonade.
“We sat down and just had a casual conversation, and that was the first time his brother had an opportunity to meet coach Dykes," Peeler says. "It was an opportunity for his brother to just get a feel for coach Dykes, and what he was about, and where the program was headed. It was very low-maintenance. That’s the thing with his recruitment that I would say, they knew what they wanted, through the entire process, as far as the education aspect, and they stuck to their guns. They really did, the entire time.”
“It was really businesslike," Robertson says. "I got to find out what coach Peeler and coach Dykes bring to the table, and it’s the right place for me. I didn’t really have to think about it.”
By the time Brown announced his decision to declare for the NBA Draft, Robertson had his decision made, too.
"I know Georgia made a big run at him towards the end, but the thing about the young man, was, when he told us he was coming, I think his character is such that none of us ever had any doubt," says Dykes. "He’s just a solid kid, and he’s a kid who went through the process the right way, came to a decision and felt like he was going to stay with it. You’re always a little bit concerned and worried, just because of the nature of recruiting, but I think all of us were comforted by his character, because he’s just that kind of guy.”
Once Robertson decided, he called Brown, and they spoke once again. That's when Robertson came up with the idea for the painting. A local news anchor suggested it. Painting, though, has never been Robertson's forte.
“I started painting this year, really,” he says. “I really love to draw, and I have ever since I was small. Me and my sister always used to draw.”
This year, Robertson too Advanced Placement Art, and that’s what led him into other media -- like the watercolor he used for his announcement. It was something different.
But, stacked in a storage locker somewhere in Savannah, Robertson has a tower of drawing pads, full of his own artwork. He likes landscapes, mainly. They're peaceful. They're quiet. They're powerful.
He’ll will have plenty of new vistas for his fingertips to dance around when he arrives back in Berkeley on June 20, to enroll.
“It’s something I may do when I get there,” he says. "I can't wait."