The Freshman's First

Notre Dame wide receiver Corey Robinson grew up with a plan to follow in his father's footsteps at the Naval Academy. An unexpected offer as a high school junior changed everything.

In mid-September, Corey Robinson plopped his nearly six-foot-five frame into a front row seat inside Notre Dame's Isban Auditorium and immediately knocked a recorder from the chair's arm rest onto the ground.

Nearly six weeks later, he did it again.

"That always happens," Robinson noted Wednesday.

Fitting, because Robinson sat down with the media horde following Wednesday's practice to discuss something else that repeatedly happens for him -- rising above an opposing cornerback to pluck a football from the air.

This time, his first collegiate touchdown was the end result.

"It was really cool. Surreal," said Robinson of his 35-yard score that put the Irish on the board last Saturday at Air Force. "Of course it had to be a fade route. That's where I made my money in high school doing that. It was just natural that it was going to happen here too."

Robinson might have earned his gridiron chops performing leaping sideline grabs a prep receiver at San Antonio Christian Schools, but precious few seemed to notice.

None prior to Notre Dame.

"They were the first school to offer me. It completely surprised me," said Robinson. "I was going to my first camp ever and two or three weeks later I got a call that Notre Dame offered me.

"I was a zero-star recruit. I never even had a college coach at my practice before. It came out of the blue, out of nowhere. I was astounded. It was really cool to have that prestigious program search me out."

Cool enough that his previous plan of becoming the second tallest member of his family to attend the Naval Academy hit a snag.

"My whole life up until my junior year," said Robinson of how long ago he'd set his sights on Annapolis. "I always visited with my dad for his basketball reunions and I really loved the atmosphere. When Notre Dame offered me, it kind of opened my mind a little. I checked out some other possibilities, came up here, and saw how incredible it was.

"I had to say 'Sorry pops, going in a different direction.'"

Pops, NBA Hall of Famer, David, apparently didn't mind.

"I think he was happy, because he was telling me horror stories. I think he was trying to scare me out of it," said Robinson. "He was all like, ‘You have to wake up at 5 in the morning, and all the PT we had to do in addition to basketball and football.' He said he didn't get any sleep the whole time. He's a smart guy, and he told me he got some bad grades his first couple years. And I was like, ‘Hmm, I don't know if that's for me or not.' I think he was actually happy when I told him I wanted to go somewhere else."

Projecting Naturally

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has secured the signatures of 39 four- and five-star recruits over his first three recruiting cycles in South Bend. (Robinson reached four-star status by Signing Day 2013 per

A decade prior, Kelly was recruiting at Grand Valley State, a championship program that housed nothing of the sort.

"You have to project. You've gotta be willing to trust your instincts on some of these things," said Kelly of his initial offer to Robinson. "And that's where this in the recruiting process sometimes, you know, you have those longer discussions in the staff room where everybody wants a sure thing or what is perceived to be a sure thing. I'm probably the guy on the other side. 

"Being a Division Two head coach, I took fliers all the time, because I was forced to. So they come easier to me.  And I'm not saying I'm the reason behind taking Corey Robinson. But you do have to have a sense that you can project."

"Flier" might be an understatement regarding Robinson's status when the Irish offered.

"That was really a big vote of confidence and trust, that they could see me becoming a player to contribute to their program," Robinson said. "At that time, not even the local schools in San Antonio, they didn't even offer me yet." (Editor's note: "Whoops.")

Kelly and the Irish staff looked past Robinson's lower level of competition at focused on their still-growing target.

"It's more difficult when you play competitions that you're superior to," Kelly said of projecting Robinson to Notre Dame. "Coupled with the fact that he's just bigger than everybody that he's playing against. But we took into (account) his pedigree. We took into account how in our individual meeting with him we were just struck with his intangibles and it's that he was going to continue to grow and get stronger and he was going to want to achieve like he's achieved in everything else, that this was probably a pretty good bet for us."

Through eight games and 11 passes thrown in his direction, that bet has paid off: five receptions plus three pass interference penalties drawn, four first downs and a touchdown.

The latter remains a special moment for the rookie.

"When I scored I didn't know what to do," he said of Saturday's career first. "Should I celebrate? I asked (freshman receiver) Will (Fuller, who also scored) the same thing and he didn't know either. It was so surreal, having all the teammates you were at camp with congratulating me. It was a really cool, special moment."

Another awaits Saturday when his father's alma mater comes to South Bend for the 87th installment of the Navy/Notre Dame game.

"I need to talk to my dad about this, make sure he's wearing my jersey or wearing Notre Dame something as opposed to Navy," Robinson joked. "But I think my grandpa who also served in the Navy might be wearing Navy. I don't know. There's a lot of Navy happening right now. I need to change that."

(David Robinson since told the Chicago Tribune's Brian Hamilton he would indeed support the Irish Saturday.)

The elder Robinson has traveled to each of his son's games this season, last week's win at Air Force brought about some old memories and commiseration.

"My dad went with one of his Navy guys that was a running back on the team back in 1985," said Robinson. "So I had dinner with him at the hotel and talked with him. They were telling me their naval stories and are all excited about next week. There's a lot of buzz around all my dad's naval buddies.

After games against Michigan, Oklahoma, and USC, and a game played in Cowboys Stadium in his home state of Texas, it's understandable the younger Robinson is able to take Saturday's matchup in stride.

"So far it's another game," said Robinson. "I think for my dad, it means a little more to him. I'm excited to play Navy. But at the end of the day, we've got to get the win. it doesn't matter who we're playing. I respect them and I respect what they do and I'm excited to go play a school that I wanted to go to for a very long time, that my dad's helped out a lot. But we have to get the W." Top Stories