When Jason Ronquillo took the job as Yelm High School’s football coach five years ago, people told him Kyle Robinson would be a good quarterback.
Ronquillo went to a game to watch Robinson, who would soon be an incoming freshman, play. What others saw quickly became clear to him, too.
“When you look at the quarterback position — they’re just not all over the place,” Ronquillo said. “Some teams don’t even have a true quarterback, they just put athletes there. (Kyle) was a true quarterback when I saw him in the eighth grade.
“It was a blessing to have a true quarterback coming up through the ranks.”
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Last year, Ronquillo realized how big of piece of the Tornados’ offense Robinson could be.
The fourth week of the season, midway through Yelm’s game against Gig Harbor, Robinson entered the game at quarterback trailing by several touchdowns. The team needed a change of pace, Ronquillo said, and the sophomore immediately showed glimpses of his potential.
“The first sign was he chucked the ball 50 yards down the field,” Ronquillo said. “His arm strength was just phenomenal for a sophomore. We noticed that. And his ball placement and accuracy — we noticed that, too.”
Robinson — 5-foot-10, 185 pounds — has always had the big arm. He estimates he can throw a football nearly 60 yards, and is also a pitcher for Yelm’s baseball team.
“I think part of it has to do with my legs,” Robinson said. “I get my full body into it. I’ve been working on that.”
Yelm couldn’t salvage that Gig Harbor game, eventually losing 37-29. But Robinson scored his first touchdown as a varsity player on a 10-yard pass to Jacob McCown in the fourth quarter.
He took over at quarterback, starting in Yelm’s five remaining Class 3A South Sound Conference games, and threw for 800 yards and accounted for six total touchdowns during the regular season. Two of those games — against Central Kitsap and eventual league champion Timberline — Robinson threw for more than 200 yards.
“Last year was learning the speed of the game and learning the offense — just getting a better grasp of it,” Ronquillo said. “Then, as soon as the season was over, he was kind of our guy.”
Robinson is putting together a breakout season in that role, with the help of his teammates. Players competed in 7-on-7 together during the offseason and worked a lot in the weight room, Robinson said.
He supplemented that with speed training and work to improve his arm strength. He spends most nights during the season watching film.
“He knows where I’m trying to attack,” Ronquillo said. “That’s the part that’s really benefiting him, and why he’s doing so well, is because of the education that’s come with it. The studying part he’s putting in behind the scenes, that’s really progressed for him.”
Robinson has become a focal point, Ronquillo said, and he has marveled so far this season at his quarterback’s instincts — particularly his mobility, and his ability to complete passes outside of the pocket when a play breaks down.
“I’m just trying to stretch the play out as long as possible,” Robinson said. “That’s when guys get open. ... I’m not looking to run. I’m looking to find guys downfield.”
Robinson’s trust that his linemen can give him enough time, his ability to evade defenders, and his confidence that his receivers will find a way to get open, has paid off. He’s already eclipsed his totals from last season in the first four weeks: Throwing for 903 yards, completing 56.4 percent of his passes (44 of 78) and six TDs.
“It gives me a lot more confidence, knowing I can throw it to anybody and they’re going to come down with it,” Robinson said.
Ronquillo said the Tornados are starting to reap the benefits of having a talented quarterback and a crew of receivers — like junior Austin Osso and senior Alex Morris, who each have more than 200 receiving yards this season — with good hands.
But, he gets just as excited about Robinson’s feet. Although senior James Palmer (55 carries, 330 yards, six TDs) is Yelm’s leading rusher, Robinson has his share of designed runs, and can scramble when he needs to. Robinson is averaging 5.6 yards per carry, and has rushed for four touchdowns.
Robinson wants to be a dual-threat, he said, instead of just a pocket passer.
“We can do read-option, which helps a lot, because it’s not keying in on one guy,” he said. “The defense is always on their toes, having to prepare for two different guys running the ball.”
With all of the responsibility he’s been given this season, Ronquillo said Robinson has adjusted well, and continues to improve each week at managing the game. He’s a prototypical quarterback that way, Ronquillo said — calm and collected.
“When the pressure’s on and adversity strikes ... he’s just that guy you want to have running your huddle,” Ronquillo said.