Notre Dame wide receiver Corey Robinson is much more than just the son of former NBA MVP David Robinson, a level of recognition the younger Robinson has had to work hard to achieve. Despite the bloodlines, the 6-foot-4-inch frame and the gaudy statistics – Robinson racked up 20 touchdowns his senior year of high school at San Antonio Christian – respect was surprisingly difficult to come by. Rather than being regarded as a serious prospect, Robinson was overlooked by scouting services, pegged as a tall receiver merely dominating underwhelming competition at a small, private high school in Texas. Corey was unranked nationally and listed as a 3-star recruit, largely ignored by power conferences, save a few modest offers from the likes of Iowa and Kansas. But Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly saw potential, and the son of “The Admiral” arrived in South Bend in the spring of 2013, soon to step outside his father’s seven foot shadow.
The younger Robinson began generating a buzz during summer camp after enrolling early as a freshman. His impact was felt immediately – managing to achieve playing time despite the presence of talented upperclassmen T.J. Jones, DaVaris Daniels and Troy Niklas – and played a critical role in Notre Dame’s 17-13 victory over Michigan State.
Robinson caught 3 passes for 54 yards, with every reception being a third down conversion. But more importantly, Robinson played an integral part in the matchup nightmare that left Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio fuming after the Spartans – a defense that relies heavily on man coverage – were penalized five times for pass interference.
“I’ve been coaching 30-plus years – no, never,” Dantonio said to the media after being asked if he had ever seen a team’s secondary penalized so frequently for pass interference in one game. “I guess that’s why we should stop talking about it right there.”
The matchup issues were so deep for Michigan State that even First Team All-Big Ten cornerback – and the No. 11 pick in the most recent NFL Draft – Trae Waynes struggled, drawing a pass interference flag when defending Robinson, only playing in his third collegiate game.
“I knew they were coming to me because it was a man-on-man matchup and I’m 6-5,” Corey said in his postgame interview. “That’s what they recruited me for.”
Last season, Robinson’s sophomore campaign, was another step in his development. Robinson emerged as Notre Dame’s second leading wide receiver, hauling in 40 receptions for 539 yards and 5 touchdowns, edging out then-junior Chris Brown by one catch. The San Antonio native shone brightest in Tallahassee when Notre Dame took on the defending national champions in prime time. Robinson caught 8 passes for 99 yards and 2 touchdowns against Florida State – outpacing Notre Dame’s star wide receiver, Will Fuller – and proved to the college football world there is a great athlete with the surname Robinson that doesn’t begin with David.
Heading into his third season, is Corey Robinson ready to make the final leap in development from productive college player to star? There are definitely indicators pointing in that direction. Now an upperclassman, Robinson can begin to focus on the nuances of the position rather than learning the overall offensive scheme, a sentiment Corey shared this spring.
“Before, I had muscle memory but then I was doing it incorrectly,” Robinson told CSN Chicago. “So now I’m just trying to, with coach Denbrock, I’m just trying to correct those little things. And it’s the little things that separate the good from the great.”
Robinson is definitely primed to have an opportunity to make the leap to greatness. With mobile quarterback Malik Zaire now at the helm, and with arguably the best offensive line since the Holtz era, Notre Dame will likely lean on the running game, a development that could become a windfall for the junior from Texas. Robinson’s size would be an asset in run support, and an efficient rushing attack will force opposing defenses to concentrate their efforts on overloading the line of scrimmage, creating wider passing lanes.
As prepped as Robinson may be for the next big step, challenges remain that could prevent a breakout campaign. The 2014 season was a large step forward but Robinson struggled with consistency and faded as the season trudged on. After Robinson’s career-best performance against Florida State he plateaued, never catching more than three passes per game the rest of the season. Complicating matters further, Chris Brown, Robinson’s chief rival for the No. 2 spot behind Will Fuller, is showing signs of finally reaching his potential after posting a strong performance against LSU. Brown managed a higher yards per reception average than Fuller against LSU in the Music City Bowl while Robinson failed to catch a single pass.
Notre Dame fans will know soon enough whether Robinson is ready to join Will Fuller as a star wide receiver, but the pieces are in place for Brian Kelly to finally have the explosive offense that landed him in South Bend in late 2010.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for the Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.