Los Angeles Times

Never underestim­ate feisty Sarmiento

San Pedro standout is 5 feet 7 and thrills as a receiver, defensive back and returner.

- ERIC SONDHEIMER ON HIGH SCHOOLS

At 5 feet 7 and 150 pounds, 17-year-old senior Robert Sarmiento of San Pedro is the feistiest, most exciting football player in the City Section.

Sometimes he gets thrown around like a rubber toy in the mouth of a Doberman. Then he picks himself off the ground and keeps on running.

“I’m a pest,” he said. “I’m that roach you can’t kill. I’m that fly that keeps buzzing. I don’t get tired.”

You shake your head in astonishme­nt when you watch him return a punt, catch a pass or make a tackle.

“You can throw me as hard as you want, but as long as you don’t hit my helmet, I’m good,” he said.

Nothing is surprising about Sarmiento if you remove the erroneous bias that football isn’t for small players.

“Why am I not really scared? My family never told me I couldn’t do anything,” he said, adding, “You’re dealt the cards you’re dealt. I’ve never seen where I can’t compete at a high level. I don’t have magic words. It’s a mental thing. Once I’m on the field, I don’t see the height. I don’t let myself make an excuse. It’s not a weakness.”

There are so many lessons learned from watching Sarmiento and listening to what he has to say.

His punt returning skills are fun to watch. Those who dare him to try to escape a tackle end up being burned.

“I don’t go on field thinking I’m going to fair-catch anything,” he said. “Honestly, it’s about how I see it. I have an advantage on some dudes. I have vision like a running back. The game doesn’t move fast for me. The game is moving slow.

I’ve had punts where I reversed field. I’ve had punts down the middle.”

Defensive backs who underestim­ate him as a receiver will end up seeing the back of his uniform in the end zone. As a wildcat quarterbac­k, he’s elusive if he slips behind a blocker. As a free safety, he’ll charge forward and take you down one way or the other. As a kicker, he’ll make extra points and field goals under pressure.

Coaches see his No. 3 on film and squirm. They know the chaos he’s capable of inflicting.

“He should be in television when he graduates,” coach Corey Miller said. “He’s magnetic. Pound for pound, I don’t know if I’ve coached anyone better.”

Sarmiento tells the story from last summer of playing against a defensive back who was trash talking in a seven-on-seven competitio­n.

“You ask anyone, ‘Robert doesn’t do well with trash talk,’ ” he said. “You just flipped the switch.”

The next two plays went for long gains and Sarmiento just stared at the opponent’s sideline letting them know that the comment “You’re weak” might not have been the smartest line.

“It really doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I’ve been underestim­ated my whole life. In some way, I play the same way.”

Sarmiento said he started playing flag football when he was 9 but was really a baseball kid. He played junior varsity his first year at San Pedro. His mother is a San Pedro graduate and provides inspiratio­n by how hard she works, he says. She wasn’t a big fan of tackle football when, in his first youth game, Sarmiento got thrown 20 feet.

“I hear it when I get home,” Sarmiento said. “My mom hates it.”

But getting back up is a life lesson, right?

“How badly do you really want it?” he said. “Being able to play against bigger and stronger dudes, that just doesn’t happen. When you get knocked down, are you going to get back up? Being hurt and being injured are two different things. I’m not going to let a simple boo-boo knock me out.”

On growing up in San Pedro, Sarmiento said, “We bleed black and gold. You have to play for something. You can’t just be playing for yourself. The goal is to get a championsh­ip, make a run for state, do something a Pedro has never done.”

Sarmiento isn’t concerned about those who have never seen him play and assume he’s too small to make an impact.

“If dudes haven’t seen me play, that’s all great to me,” he said. “I don’t need dudes knowing who I am.”

 ?? Luis Sinco Los Angeles Times ?? ROBERT SARMIENTO of San Pedro is among the most exciting players in City Section football.
Luis Sinco Los Angeles Times ROBERT SARMIENTO of San Pedro is among the most exciting players in City Section football.

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