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Notre Dame-Navy: A Robinson Affair

Last weekend against Air Force there were family ties when Falcons’ offensive left tackle Matt Rochell and Notre Dame freshman defensive end Isaac Rochell were on opposite sides of the ball.

Corey Robinson - Post Practice 10/30 - Blu...

This week, Notre Dame freshman wideout Corey Robinson will be going against the school where his father, David, blossomed into the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick. He led the Midshipmen to the Elite 8 in 1986 and became a 10-time NBA All-Star, and league MVP, while helping the San Antonio Spurs to a couple of championships. Grandfather Robinson also was a Navy man, and as of Wednesday night the discussion of this weekend’s matchup has not been discussed.

“It’s one of those taboo subjects,” smiled the 6-4 ½, 205-pound son, although his father is on the record that his allegiance this week definitely is with Notre Dame. “I just try to stay away from it. … There’s a lot of buzz around all my Dad’s Naval buddies.”

While growing up, Corey made visits to Annapolis for his father’s various reunions and harbored similar thoughts of joining that path as a student, and maybe even as an athlete.

“I view serving the country as a great privilege, and I’ve always wanted to do that at some point,” Robinson said.

The elder Robinson had no objections, but for all the love and nostalgia the father — nicknamed “The Admiral” — has for Navy, he also provided the straight scoop to Corey on what lifestyle he would be facing.

“I think he was trying to scare me out of it,” said the gregarious son. “You have to wake up at 5 in the morning and all the [physical training] … he didn’t get any sleep the whole time. He’s a smart guy (1,320 SAT score and a Mathematics major) and he told me he got bad grades his first couple of years.”

What floored Corey was that Notre Dame became the first school to offer him a football scholarship after watching him at a camp, and by the end of March 2012, the stunned Robinson verbally committed to the Irish.

“I was a zero-star recruit, I never even had a college coach at my practice before,” said Robinson of the out-of-the-blue offer. “I was just astounded … to just have that kind of prestigious program come and search me out. Not even the local school like San Antonio offered me. [Notre Dame] coming from 1,000 miles away to offer me, that was pretty special.”

Having played in a less prominent Texas league and possessing a rail-thin physical frame in need of a lot more strength, Robinson was a prime redshirt candidate even though he enrolled early last January. Yet his playmaking skills and ability to swallow up any pass near his vicinity made him too much of a threat to keep off the field.

For now, his role has been limited to running on the outside edges of the hash marks, primarily as a “fade” threat, similar to how Chris Brown in 2012 or Golden Tate as a 2007 freshman was limited to the “go” route. Still, Robinson has been of the top surprises of 2013, including earning Blue & Gold Illustrated’s offensive player of the game in the 17-13 victory versus Michigan State on Sept. 21 (three catches, 54 yards, plus drawing some pass interference calls), and last week he caught his first career touchdown pass, from 35 yards, to knot the Air Force game at 7-7 en route to the 45-10 victory.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said having been a Division II head coach for 13 years at Grand Valley State, he had to develop a keen sense of projecting players, which is one of the reasons why the staff took “a flier” on Robinson.

“Everybody wants a sure thing or what is perceived to be a sure thing,” said Kelly of recruiting. “…You do have to have a sense that you can project.”

Robinson’s pedigree, intangibles and growth potential were all taken into account, although the 6-4 1/2 height is plenty now for the coaches. His father was 6-6 as a high school senior, 6-9 by the time he played his first game at Navy and reached seven feet en route to becoming the National Player of the Year.

“If his dad’s genes kick in … I think we’re out of business here,” Kelly joked. “Might be [head basketball coach] Mike Brey is talking to me a little bit.”

“I don’t think [it will be] similar,” said Corey of his growth, adding that his older brother is only 6-2 while his 17-year-old younger brother is already 6-5. “I might squeeze an inch or two, but nothing like Pops. … That’s a little too much.”

Down the road, he envisions his stature to be maybe in a stronger 220-pound range of previous long and lean figures such as Jeff Samardzija (2003-06) or Michael Floyd (2008-11). Corey jokes that the “Robinson gene” entails becoming a late bloomer athletically, including being somewhat awkward or gangly in high school before morphing in college. Although he also competed in basketball and tennis in high school, Robinson said he was “equally bad” in both, which is why he settled on football.

While rooming with fellow early enrollee and now starting right guard Steve Elmer, both made the Dean’s List last spring, with Robinson posting a 3.7 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale.

“I’m one of those weird guys that actually enjoys school,” Robinson said. “I just love to learn.”

The multi-faceted Robinson also took 10 years of piano lessons and has a natural ear for music, including the ability to play the ukulele, guitar, drums, and some flute as well as alto saxophone. Another talented musician, junior tight end Ben Koyack, lives a few doors down at Knott Hall, and for some relaxation they will hold their own musical sessions together.

In his father, Robinson has grown up with the perfect role model to emulate. With all the business, non-profit and foundation ventures of David Robinson, The Hall-of-Famer’s most important title remains “Dad.” Corey is touched by how his father makes it to his games. However, there is virtually zero talk about football strategy.

“He doesn’t know anything about football,” Corey laughed, “but [we] always talk about the competitive and mental aspect of the game.”

One could not ask for a better teacher … and student.

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