Ever since he was a young kid growing up in University Heights, Ernie Robertson had the same recurring daydream. When he got older, he wanted to spend his Saturday afternoons playing college football and catching passes as an elite wide receiver.
Now after four years of doing just that for the Riverdale Country School, Robertson’s life-long dream is about to come true. And he won’t even have to travel far from his University Heights home to make it happen.
“I’ll be going to Columbia next year and playing football,” Robertson said. “I thought they had the balance academically and athletically that I’m looking for. Academics was a big part of it for me, and just figuring out where I fit in best and what could push me — both as a student and an athlete — is why I felt like Columbia was the best for me.”
Football is something Robertson has excelled at his whole life. After a brilliant career at Riverdale where he was the favorite target of Falcons quarterback Ryan Rosenzweig over four seasons, Robertson was selected to participate in the prestigious Boomer Esiason Empire Challenge, pitting high school all-stars from the city against a team of their counterparts from Long Island.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Robertson, who caught two balls in the game for roughly 50 yards. “We tied it up with 40 seconds left and we went for the two-point conversion because it was an all-star game and it was all or nothing. But we didn’t make it and we lost by one.
“But it was a very fun experience. I got to play with guys I never get to play against or play with.”
After his time with Riverdale in the Ivy League, this game represented a big step up in competition for Robertson.
“I thought it was a great opportunity because it helps put our league on the map in comparison to those other bigger leagues that people are looking at, and it shows where we stand in relation to them,” Robertson said. “So it was not just a good opportunity for me but for our league as a whole.”
And now with his first college football season beginning with practices in August, his dream is on the cusp of coming true.
“I’ve always dreamt of playing football in college, and seeing it play out is something that I’m excited for,” Robertson said. “But more than anything, I’m excited to see where it takes me and excited for the experience. I’m excited for that to become my reality. It’s something I’ve looked forward to for so long.”
And while he is looking forward to his first collegiate experiences, that doesn’t mean he won’t miss Riverdale Country Day, his home since his earliest days.
“I’ve actually been at Riverdale since kindergarten,” Robertson said. “Overall it hasn’t gone by fast, but high school definitely went by quickly. And athletically, I think it went by rather quickly. But I certainly enjoyed my time there, and I enjoyed what I was doing. It was a fun experience all around, and I’m grateful for it.”
The main thing Robertson will take from his Riverdale days are the close friendships he forged with many of his teammates, but with two in particular.
“Playing football, it’s more of a family than a team,” Robertson said. “And especially with guys like Ryan and Avery Hoffman. You get close to those guys, and I think I’ll be close to those guys forever. I don’t think I would have wanted to play with anybody else. It was something that shaped me into who I am and shaped them into who they are.
“I’ll always remember them and always remember what they have done for me, and I’m grateful for having played with them.”
Columbia opens its season with a road game against Central Connecticut University on Sept. 15. Two weeks later, they will play their first home game against Princeton. Plenty of time for Robertson to break in a new quarterback to team up with on those Saturdays.
“It’s going to take some getting used to with a new quarterback,” Robertson said. “I’ve been with Ryan for four years and I’ll miss him. But I’m also excited for the next chapter. It’s sad to see myself leaving the Riverdale community, but it’s something that is necessary and something that will help me grow as a person.
“So, yes, I’m sad and nervous, but I think it’s something that is positive.”