When former San Antonio Spurs star David Robinson began college at the Naval Academy, he stood an imposing 6-foot-8. Within a year, he grew another three inches and eventually topped out at 7-foot-1. His son, Notre Dame freshman wide receiver Corey Robinson, towers over defensive backs with his 6-foot-5 frame. As he displayed in Saturday’s 17-13 win over Michigan State, he need not rely upon a late growth spurt like his father to make his mark with the Irish.
All four of freshman wide receiver Corey Robinson's receptions have resulted in an Irish first down. Against Michigan State, he led Notre Dame with three catches and 54 yards.
Robinson led the Irish with three receptions for 54 yards and drew a critical pass interference flag in the fourth quarter that led to the game-winning touchdown. Through four games, the lanky receiver has snared four passes, all of which have resulted in first downs.
“You’ve just got to be super confident and know that you have to go in there and make the catch to help the team win,” Robinson said. “Everyone’s counting on you to make the play. It’s just as hard mentally as it is physically. You have to make sure you impose your will on the defender and even if they cover you, you still have to make the play.”
Robinson’s four game-altering plays (including the pass interference against Michigan State) all came on third down. He set up both of the Irish touchdowns by moving the chains on a third down play.
- On third-and-three from Notre Dame’s own 27-yard line in the first quarter, senior quarterback Tommy Rees looked first to DaVaris Daniels and TJ Jones before lofting a jump ball to Robinson near midfield. Robinson had to adjust and come back to Rees’ underthrow, but the freshman hauled it in as he fell to the ground at the Michigan State 49.
- Three plays later, on third-and-10, Robinson faced cornerback Trae Waynes’ man coverage again. Robinson’s deep route earlier in the drive seemed to affect the way the Spartans covered him on this third down. When Robinson passed the first down marker, he immediately curled back and had a large cushion to haul in a 14-yard reception for another first down.
- With 41 seconds remaining in the first half and the Irish facing a third-and-three from Michigan State’s 19-yard line, Rees looked to Daniels near the end zone on the left side of the field. With standout cornerback Darqueze Dennard covering Daniels, Rees looked across the field to Robinson, who ran back toward Rees from the end zone. The quarterback found him for a 17-yard gain to the 2-yard line. Rees connected with Jones three players later for Notre Dame’s first touchdown.
- On the opening play of the fourth quarter and with the game tied at 10, Notre Dame faced a third-and-10 from the Spartan 22. Robinson ran a fade toward the end zone, but Waynes had the inside position and had the Irish freshman against the sideline. Rees underthrew Robinson on a pass that easily could have been intercepted, but Robinson’s physical presence and adjustment eliminated any chance of an interception and drew a questionable pass interference call against Waynes. Two plays later, Cam McDaniel scampered into the end zone from seven yards out to give Notre Dame its game-winning score.
“He's a big target,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “He tracks the ball so very well. Look, if you can keep the ball in a position where he can [use his height], he's very difficult to defend.”
Sophomore cornerback KeiVarae Russell emphasized how difficult it is to deny Robinson, considering the freshman has a six-inch height advantage on the starting cornerback.
“Corey’s tough,” Russell said. “You could see today whether it was a [pass interference call] or a catch, that’s how it is in practice. … Corey catches everything near him. Even if you [cover him well], he catches nearly everything in his vicinity. … When the ball’s in the air you have to squeeze tight.”
Lining up against Russell and senior cornerback Bennett Jackson in practice has expedited Robinson’s progress, the receiver said.
“It’s so helpful to go against KeiVarae and Bennett every day,” Robinson said. “They’re some of the best corners out here. If we can make plays against them, we can make plays against anyone in theory.”
Robinson said he is “by far” a stronger player since entering strength and conditioning coach Paul Longo’s system as an early enrollee last January, but continuing to bulk up is his primary focus.
“I’m at about 200 [pounds] right now,” said Robinson, who added that the coaches want him to put on another 10-15 pounds.
“I think the thing with the weight would be [getting stronger] as opposed to more weight. I want to be able to be fast and quick as opposed to having more weight but not being any stronger.”
While the emphasis is on getting stronger, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Robinson ends up growing vertically as well.