Notre Dame football: Irish get glimpse of Robinson’s bright future

Al Lesar

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Wide-eyed, fresh-faced and genuinely excited about his first appearance before the media, Corey Robinson was more than just the leading receiver in the Notre Dame football team's win over Michigan State Saturday.

He represented the future of the Irish offense.

The slender 6-foot-5, 205-pound Robinson is a long, athletic, sticky-fingered weapon that has been missing in the Irish arsenal for a long time. He doesn't have the physicality that made Jeff Samardzija special, but "Shark" didn't have this sort of potential as a freshman.

How's this for a "go-to" guy? Robinson had three catches for 54 yards against the Spartans. All three receptions were on third down and moved the chains.

"He's a big target," Irish coach Brian Kelly said of Robinson. "He tracks the ball so very well. Look, if you can keep the ball in a position where he can play (6-5), he's very difficult to defend."

He'll be a big part of the passing game against Oklahoma Saturday.

"(Robinson) is a sure-handed, trustworthy guy," said Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees. "He had a big game today for us. We have all the trust in the world in him.

"(He's) somebody that really prides himself on his ability to catch the ball. I think he showed that today."

Robinson showed that even a skinny guy could handle the physical nature of Michigan State's corners. A battle that produced four Spartan pass interference penalties and a defensive holding call on a pass was an all-out war at times.

"The physicality, that's the No. 1 (adjustment to the college game)," Robinson said. "The corners are so much bigger (than high school), and so much stronger. You've got to be so much more physical, and hold your line on the routes; try to get open.

"It sounds so easy: Try to get open. It's so much harder at this level."

Certainly, Robinson knew what the challenge would be against the Spartans.

"(Michigan State corner Trae Waynes) was very tall (6-1)," he said. "I knew it was going to be a more vertical battle. I was just trying to keep him off me and hold my line.

"I knew they were going to come to me because it was a man-on-man matchup and I'm 6-5. That's what they recruited me for. I knew I had to make plays.

"You've got to think of it as a battle. Going into (that game), I was just trying to focus on what I had to do: Going over things mentally, and preparing myself physically."

An early enrollee last January, Robinson has made significant strides in the physical and mental part of the game. His development has allowed him to find a place in the regular rotation of receivers early in his career.

"I didn't even think I was going to play college football my junior year of high school," Robinson said. "Now, playing out here in front of 81,000 screaming fans, it's unreal.

"Every day, I just keep grinding. These (teammates) make it more fun than it seems. It's definitely a journey.

"This season goes by too quickly. It's already Week (5). We have a lot to learn to help the team. It just goes by so, so quickly.

"You have to be super-confident; you have to make this catch to help the team win. Everyone's counting on you to make this play. It's just as hard mentally as it is physically. You have to impose your will on the defender. Even if they cover you, you're going to make that play.

"I'm a lot more confident in practice, when you make one play, two plays, three plays. It really helps out, especially with the great corners we have in practice.

"It's so helpful to go against KeiVarae (Russell) and Bennett (Jackson) every day. They're some of the best corners out here. If we can make plays against them, we can make plays against anyone, in theory."

Though he's long and lanky now, Robinson has no idea what the future holds for his growth. His dad, David — yes, that David Robinson — had quite a spurt while in college at the Naval Academy.

"Pops grew seven inches (in college)," Corey said. "I'm not the same (body type) my dad was. My dad was a lot skinnier, like 6-7, 170, coming out of high school. I didn't look like that. Maybe I have a couple more inches (to grow)."

Beyond the physical stature, what sort of pressure goes along with being the son of one of the best players in the history of the NBA?

"I love my dad," Corey said. "I have so much fun talking about him. He's such a great guy. He's humble. He's such a hard worker. He's passionate about everything he does. I'm so blessed to have him as my dad.

"A lot (of pressure goes with being his son). It's a lot easier playing football. If I played basketball, it would be a hundred times worse. My dad said he's very happy I played football rather than basketball because that would be a lot to live up to."

Corey's carving his own "go-to" niche in a different arena.

One clutch catch at a time.

Notre Dame wide receiverCorey Robinson knocks an interception out of the hands of Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes (15) at the goal line during Saturday's game at Notre Dame. Waynes was flagged for pass interference on the play.