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Robinson returns to Texas with important role

Mike Monaco | Thursday, October 3, 2013

During a mid-April spring practice, Irish freshman receiver Corey Robinson turned heads.

Lined up on the outside during 11-on-11 drills, Robinson made a diving, one-handed catch down the sideline with a defender all over him.

“I remember running and thinking to myself, ‘Oh man. This ball is a little overthrown but I have to go for it or else I’m going to get yelled at by the coaches,'” Robinson said Wednesday.

Robinson did make the grab and, in the process, caught the eye of many onlookers. Since then, Robinson has continued to make an impact for Notre Dame.

Through five games, he has totaled four catches for 66 yards, the majority of which came against Michigan State on Sept. 21, when the 6-foot-5 rookie hauled in three receptions for a team-leading 54 yards against the Spartans in an otherwise unproductive performance from the Irish offense. Robinson also drew a pass-interference call in the fourth quarter on a drive that resulted in Notre Dame’s game-winning touchdown.

But ever since his impressive spring catch and Robinson’s overall notable first semester as an early enrollee last spring – when Irish coach Brian Kelly said Robinson could certainly be a weapon as a freshman, at least in the red zone – he’s been trying to evolve. Kelly raves about Robinson’s “catch radius,” and senior quarterback Tommy Rees called Robinson a “sure-handed, trustworthy guy” after the Michigan State game. But most of Robinson’s damage has come along the sidelines, as a strictly throw-it-up-and-go-get-it receiver.

“I think the plays I have gotten here have been, like you said, a lot of back-shoulder fades and stuff like that so they’re definitely trying to play me that way,” Robinson said. “But like I said before the coaches are trying to put me in more positions to make more plays at different positions, whether that be inside or outside, running more dig routes, or whatever on the outside, to mix things up a little bit.

“I’m trying to work every day at it. I’m getting better. That’s the positive note. Hopefully we’ll see if I mix it up a little bit.”

Robinson tallied 67 receptions for 1,414 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior at San Antonio Christian and earned a spot on the West squad in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January. Soon thereafter, he enrolled early at Notre Dame, getting a jump start on the transition to the collegiate level. Even with the head start, Robinson said his first season has been a whirlwind.

“It’s been actually pretty crazy,” Robinson said. “In the spring it wasn’t going this fast. The season is flying by. I can’t believe it’s week six already.”

In the roughly nine-month period at Notre Dame, Robinson said he has made definitive progress.

“I think probably toward the spring game I was starting to see some strides and then over the summer when we started doing seven-on-seven, I started to see I was getting faster, running routes a little better,” Robinson said. “And then in camp, that’s when it really started becoming evident, where it’s just like I have got to win and I am winning and I’m starting to get more opportunities on the field to be successful and help the team win.

“And then when we started playing the games and they started calling my number, that’s also pretty big evidence, me taking strides since the spring. I think I’ve developed a lot since the spring and I hope to keep continuing that development.”

On a team where fame finds practically every football player, Robinson came in with his own sort of fame and name-recognition. Robinson is the son of NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson, who starred in college at Navy and then made 10 NBA All-Star teams, won an MVP award and two NBA titles during his 14-year career with the San Antonio Spurs.

David now makes it a point to come watch Corey play.

“He’s my biggest fan,” Corey said. “I remember him telling me that my grandpa, his father, would follow him to every game. He drove from Maryland for all the Navy games and he said it was kind of annoying at first but then he realized how important that was for him to have his dad at every game. So he’s trying to do the same for me. We play all over the country so I’m like ‘Good luck with that, Dad.’ I’m excited to see him on the sideline every game, it kind of brings me back to high school to me where I can run out and see my dad, see my mom and then everything else just goes away and I just play football.”

On Saturday, Notre Dame’s country-wide tour will take Robinson to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, roughly four hours from his home of San Antonio.

“For me it’s just another game,” Robinson said. “I’m excited to be back home in Texas but at the end of the day we’ve got to come out with a ‘W.'”

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu