Corey Robinson nearly gave it up.
At home in San Antonio after Notre Dame’s season ended in defeat at the Fiesta Bowl, the receiver whose reputation had been built more off the field than on it wondered if he’d just played his last game.
Football had never defined Robinson, who makes the Dean’s List as often as he finds the end zone. He’d applied to be a Rhodes Scholar and Fulbright Scholar. He’d already started writing his senior thesis on environmental policy. He can play at least eight instruments, although it might be 10 if three varieties of flute got counted individually. And he could graduate this spring and teach in Brazil this fall.
Before returning to campus he counseled with his famous father, NBA Hall of Famer David Robinson. He talked with his high school coach. He connected with DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and a handful of other teammates.
Back in South Bend he met with Brian Kelly. Now Robinson is all-in with Notre Dame football for a final year with a “reduced” course load – he took 18 credit hours last semester – and the matter of being elected student body president to manage.
He’s the first football player to be elected to that office in school history.
To understand Robinson, consider his upcoming schedule – he takes office April 1 – represents a more balanced day-to-day between football and everything outside it.
“Student-body president is definitely something that is a hard time commitment just like football is, but I think having only two major focuses will free it up in a strange sense,” Robinson said. “Before I had … six, seven, eight (commitments), so to narrow it down to two, I’m very thankful for and I’m excited to tackle this challenge.”
The renaissance receiver met the media Friday for the first time since his election, flanked by his running mate, Becca Blais. They talked about their platform, which ranged from better support for sexual assault victims to enhancing the school’s sustainability. They talked about connecting over Chipotle and the idealism of being 20 years old.
And Robinson was up front about nearly walking away from the football program that helped get him to Notre Dame in the first place. Despite wondering if he should pour his time into something else, Robinson said his worldview won’t take away from his focus on football.
“In the weight room, on the practice field, I’m going to give you everything I’ve got,” Robinson said. “It’s not like one of those things, ‘Sorry coach, I didn’t want to come into lift because I was tired and I was talking to this person from this department or the administration.”
What pushed Robinson to consider walking away from football was a difficult 2015 that included one touchdown, three injuries and missing out on both the Rhodes and Fulbright scholarships. Robinson said his goal remains the Rhodes, which would take him to Oxford to study after graduation.
Robinson said he can apply for the Rhodes annually until he’s 25-years old.
“Hopefully I get it,” he laughed. “And if not, I’ll just be 26.”
Robinson suffered an ankle sprain, knee injury and concussion during a difficult junior season burdened by expectations, some realistic and some not. One NFL Draft prognosticator, Matt Miller of the Bleacher Report, listed Robinson as a first round pick this spring after his sophomore season.
While that was never realistic, Robinson was excepted to produce more last fall. He finished with just 16 catches, 200 yards and one score. He also dropped a two-point conversion at Clemson that played a part in Notre Dame’s loss in Death Valley.
Returning to football meant sitting down with Kelly to outline expectations within a program that lost Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle this off-season. Despite a down junior year, Robinson is still Notre Dame’s second-leading receiver among returning players. It would be fine by Kelly if Robinson was after next season too.
“He said, ‘Corey, if you want to do this I need you to know that I need you to come in like (Brown) and fill his shoes, fill his role and really be a leader on the receiving corps. I want you to do this. I know you’re passionate about this,’” Robinson said. “But he was very clear on what he needed me to do football-wise.”
Robinson should have time to deliver as he takes on a new minor he said will require just a three or four classes spread between the fall and spring semesters of the next academic calendar. It will all let Robinson move football up his list of priorities in a way he couldn’t last year, although the receiver rejects the notion athletes can’t do more than play sports.
“I think hopefully the past three years have really kind of dispelled that notion that you can be only all-in to one thing,” Robinson said. “I’ve been involved in many things in my time here at Notre Dame and I’ve given it everything I’ve had in every regard, I’ve seen success in every single one of them.
“You can do multiple things and give your best, hopefully that notion’s dispelled.”