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Freshman receivers step up, score first career touchdowns

Jack Hefferon | Monday, October 28, 2013

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – There’s nothing like the first time.

In Notre Dame’s 45-10 win over Air Force on Saturday, Irish senior quarterback Tommy Rees sprayed the ball around, finding five different receivers on his five touchdown throws – a first in the program’s long history.

Two of those touchdown recipients were freshmen receivers Corey Robinson and Will Fuller, who reached the end zone for the first time in their careers.

Robinson came down with Notre Dame’s first score of the day, a jump ball that the 6-foot-4.5 freshman went up and stole away from his defender for a 35-yard touchdown. Robinson said he was surprised to stay on his feet after the catch and had to remember to take the last few steps over the goal line. From there, the situation became even more foreign.

“That [touchdown] was so surreal. I did not expect that coming,” Robinson said. “I didn’t know what to do in the end zone. I was just like, ‘What do I do now?'”

Fuller’s score came just more than four minutes later when he flew past a Falcon cornerback down the seam, opening up a five-yard gap to make an easy 46-yard grab for the score. Fuller streaked down the sideline later in the game for another big gain, this time good for 47 yards, and Irish coach Brian Kelly praised the freshman’s “elite speed” and hands after the performance.

For Fuller, one word captured the touchdown and the day.

“That was fun,” he said. “As receivers, we’re always together, so it was great for all of us to get a chance to score and catch the ball.”

It also brought a smile to Kelly, who was pleased to see his freshmen continue to develop and provide depth behind veteran receivers like senior TJ Jones and junior DaVaris Daniels.

“You’d like to get these kinds of opportunities for these young guys early because it obviously builds their confidence,” Kelly said. “They’re a really confident group, so when you get them involved, especially these young guys, it’s so important to their development. … They’re developing. They’re growing. It’s good to see them have some success.”

No one knows the benefits of a touchdown in the Irish receiving corps better than Jones, who reeled in the 16th of his career on a 30-yard pump-and-go in Saturday’s third quarter and was also excited for his younger teammates.

“I think it’s very significant,” Jones said of Fuller and Robinson’s touchdowns. “You got glimpses of these young guys and the future, and I think it was good for them to get their first touchdowns and first taste of what can come.”

The end goal is to follow Jones’s continued success, but any great career has to start somewhere, and Fuller and Robinson hope to have made a step on that path by crossing the plane at Falcon Stadium. Now, the freshmen and their teammates will shift their focus to the next opportunity to help the Irish win when they host Navy this weekend. 

But on Saturday night, Robinson was able to celebrate with his family and cherish the moment for a while, enjoying what he hopes to be the first of many.

“Actually now being here, and having my first touchdown, and seeing my dad in the stands cheering for me – that’s special,” he said.

Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu