Notre Dame WR Corey Robinson taking page out of Samardzija's book

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Corey Robinson admits he’s not enough of a baseball fan to know whether the Cubs or the Oakland A’s will be celebrating the Jeff Samardzija trade long term.

Of even if the former Notre Dame two-sport star made a mistake by walking away from football almost eight years ago.

But in the patchwork of tools and words the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Notre Dame sophomore wide receiver has been using this offseason to transform his game, vintage Jeff Samardzija wide receiver video is near the top of the list.

“I love Jeff Samardzija,” Robinson said earlier this week of the former All-American and ND’s third all-time leading receiver. “I want to play just like him. Whenever I go on YouTube, I always look up his highlights.

“It’s incredible. The guy is about my size, 6-5 and about 225, and he was just really great with his hands, great with his body. He can catch like a 3-yard slant route and take it all the way to the house. I need to learn how to play like that.”

Robinson heads into 17th-ranked Notre Dame the Aug. 30 season opener with Rice as a likely breakout performer in a deep, talented but unproven Irish receiving corps.

With leading receiver DaVaris Daniels in roster limbo because of the school’s ongoing academic fraud probe, the nine catches (for 157 yards and 1 TD) Robinson collected during his freshman season represent the third-highest career total of any active player on the team.

Junior wideout Chris Brown (17 for 265) and senior tight end Ben Koyack (14 for 215) are the only two with more than 10 career catches. Robinson’s nine puts him 170 catches shy of the current Oakland A’s starting pitcher’s career total at ND, but two more than Samardzija caught himself as a freshman in 2003.

“Last year I didn’t want to seem like I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Robinson, who admits he actually largely didn’t. “It turns out you get in more trouble when you go out there thinking you know something.”

Robinson was slow to fall in love with football and football only partially loved him back initially. The shortfall on both ends had a lot to do with when the son of former NBA star David Robinson watched a game, he saw a lot of chaotic, random moving parts — similar to how many Americans perceive World Cup soccer.

It was his older brother, David Jr., who finally talked Corey into coming out for the sport at San Antonio (Texas) Christian High School.

“He was a junior in high school and he told me to try out,” Corey said. “I went to tryouts, and he wasn’t there. He had played for two years. It was like a Houdini trick. He got me pretty good.

“I was like, ‘Thanks, bro. You want to play with me and then you leave.’ That’s how I started. My parents really encouraged me to stay with it. I guess my dad saw some natural aptitude for catching the ball and encouraged me to fight through it, and then here I am today.”

But still trying to unscramble the big picture, though making strides.

“I think (with Corey), the only thing I’ve got to help him with is not to overthink the game, quite frankly,” ND offensive coordinator/receivers coach Mike Denbrock said. “He’s a very, very smart individual, very analytical in his mind and sometimes he thinks a little too much. When he rips it loose and plays and just lets his ability take over, he’s hard to handle and hard to deal with.

“He will be a major part of what we’re doing, going forward here.”

Robinson said he’s getting fed more of the playbook, beaming that the primary sideline route-runner last year now has a couple of plays that take him inside. He is learning how to thwart press coverage, understanding how the parts move around him and gaining confidence that he can be the red-zone threat so many people in and around the program have perceived him to be.

“That’s one of the main focuses of the season for me,” he said of an area, red-zone offense, in which the Irish ranked 77th nationally (out of 123 FBS teams) last season. “I’m tall, I’m pretty big, so I’m just trying to focus on jumping over people.

“I remember my freshman year I got some butterflies. Now it’s just like I realize, ‘This is what I’m here for. This is why I got recruited, and I’ve got to start making plays down here.’ Now I’m becoming more comfortable in the red zone.

“I remember my freshman year I was freaking out. I was like, ‘Oh man, it’s coming to me. I’ve got to make a good play.’ Now it’s, ‘I’ve just got to do what I do.’ It’s just kind of like a different mind-set. Now it’s, ‘I’m going to get it. This guy isn’t going to stand in my way.’ It’s more of a dominating mind-set as opposed to, ‘Maybe, hopefully, if he lets me.”

It was his dad, David Robinson Sr., who helped Corey clear that mental hurdle, even though the younger Robinson continues to profess that the former San Antonio Spur knows nothing about football.

“Let’s be real,” Corey said. “His learning curve is still really bad. But he’s my mentor when it comes to competition and athletics in general, because it’s a lot of the same kind of thing.

“He told me at the college level, everyone’s talented, everyone’s fast, everyone’s big, everyone’s strong, but what really separates the good from the great is the person who can beat the other person mentally and who can last the longest mentally.

“He said it’s that way on the pro level, too. It’s 95 percent mental and 5 percent physical, so with that kind of mind-set, I still need to become bigger, stronger, faster, but I’m really working on the mental side of the game.”

Where the two remain out of sync is where it pertains to Corey’s hair. The long curls Corey fashioned as a freshman? Eventually his father wore him down about that style. He replaced it this summer with a blond Mohawk of sorts.

Corey said the inspiration was primarily Italian soccer star Mario Balotelli, with a lesser tip of the cap to Brazilian soccer players Neymar and Dani Alves. Robinson spent time in Brazil in May doing Mission work.

But that’s not how David Robinson’s friends on the current San Antonio Spurs team perceived it when Corey ran into the team this summer.

“Tim Duncan was like, ‘Dennis Rodman?,’ ” Corey related of the uber-flamboyant former Spurs rebounding machine/distraction. “All those guys were asking me, ‘What happened?’

Which was a step up for the reaction he received at home.

“Trust me I’m not much of a showy guy,” Robinson said with a smile that never seems to leave his face. “The way I look at it it’s just hair, right? It’ll grow back. I can cut it off at any moment. Why not? I’m 19, I’m in college, I’m an athlete. Let’s do it.”

And if that gets old, maybe a Jeff Samardzija look?

Only in playing style, not hairstyle, Robinson insists. | 574-235-6112 | Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame wide receiver Corey Robinson enters the season as a likely breakout performer. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)