Corey Robinson settled his six-foot-five frame into the first row in the Isban Auditorium Wednesday night. Within seconds Robinson committed an interview faux pas, knocking a recorder to the ground as he shifted for comfort in this, his initial weekday interview with the media horde.
"It's my first rodeo," he joked.
But unlike most of the team's rookies, not his first chance to speak with the media. Robinson earned that distinction post-game in the wake of a 17-13 win over Michigan State thanks to five crucial plays that helped the Irish eke out their most recent win in what was a trying opening month.
"You have to be super confident and go in there thinking you have to make this catch to help the team win," said Robinson of an afternoon that included three chain-moving receptions and two others that afforded his offense a first down due to penalty. "Everyone's counting on you to make this play. It's just as hard mentally as it is physically. Impose your will on the defender that even if they cover you well, you're still going to make the play."
Robinson is able to execute such game-changing plays because, as senior receiver and unit leader T.J. Jones notes, "Corey's one of the lucky ones."
Blessed with height, body control, leaping ability, no fear, and likely, the best hands on the football team, Robinson will likely join recent long-limbed stars Michael Floyd and Maurice Stovall as an unstoppable fade route weapon over the course of his career.
He's already drawn more pass interference penalties from defenders (3), than the entire Notre Dame receiving corps garnered last fall (0).
(2012 tight end Tyler Eifert drew 6, fellow tight end Troy Niklas 1, and the entire Irish wide receiving corps never earned a flag en route to 12-0.)
But the difference between the aforementioned duo of recent greats and the rookie Robinson lies in the details of the craft.
"I'm trying to get down the ordinary things, route-running and blocking, not just being able to do the one thing I can do, jump up," he said. "Try to become a more well-rounded player and I can see that I'm getting better at the little things."
Those little things involve reading the defense, something he first learned as a prep star at San Antonio Christian.
"Reading coverages in high school really prepared me," Robinson noted, "But at the same time, it's college football. Everything's moving a lot faster, there's a lot more checks. At least I had an idea, a little sample. But here its a whole new world.
"I'm trying to work on all of my routes and route running. Being a little taller, it's hard to get out of breaks like some of the smaller guys, but I'm trying to work on it and the coaches give me the opportunity in practice to try to make plays in those positions and it's helping."
The relative neophyte
Robinson and seven of his Irish teammates will make a trip to their home state this weekend for Notre Dame's fifth annual Shamrock Series game, this time to be played in Arlington vs. No. 22 ranked Arizona State.
Unlike the majority of Texas prep stars, Robinson didn't grow up dreaming of playing under Friday Night's Lights, nor one day starring in hallowed Cowboys Stadium, site of Saturday's contest.
"I didn't really watch football until like my senior year and that was college," Robinson said when asked if he grew up a Cowboys fan, formerly a birthright of Lone Star residents. "I never really got into the pros. If I had to choose, the (Houston) Texans maybe? I was never into the NFL, my mom's from Chicago, she's a big Bears fan. If I had to choose a home team it'd definitely be the Texans."
(Quick guess: son of Basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson, Corey might have enjoyed an NBA game or two in his youth.)
Still, a trip to his home state will serve as a welcome tonic for a freshman that spent eight of the last nine months away from home working on his craft.
"I was expecting (the added bonus of) warm weather, but here it's 80-85 so it won't be much of a change," he joked of South Bend's unseasonably warm Autumn. "But it's going to be great to be back in the Lone Star State. My family's going to be at the game, some of my brothers. So it's fun."
As for his first foray into legendary Cowboys Stadium?
"I hear its huge. The Big Screen is going to be the biggest I've ever seen in my life. It'll be a fun atmosphere, rowdy. I can't wait to see all the Notre Dame fans from Texas."
Concentrating on the whole
Spend time watching any Irish practice and you'll likely see No. 88's hands rise above a defender to stymie a spiraling pigskin in flight before crashing to the ground, the ball since cradled and secured.
Cornerbacks can defend Robinson, but if the ball is placed high and outside down the sideline, there's rarely a defense that overcomes his proven skill set: he can go get it.
Opponents have taken notice.
"The plays I have gotten, like you said are a lot of back-shoulder fades, so they're definitely trying to play me that way," he said of recent contests. "Coaches are trying to put me in more plays to get inside, running more dig routes like you said. I'm working every day and getting better, so that's positive."
But grasping and executing his own route isn't the main issue. There's an entire field of fellow targets to consider on every snap. Notre Dame's passing game is based on concepts, not specific routes on each snap.
"In January I was trying to memorize routes, but then they'd put you in a different position and I wouldn't understand it, and mess up and get yelled at," he said.
"Now it's totally changed in my mindset from 'The X does this, the W does this.' Now it's more like the field concept or boundary concept. Then you can play the whole offense. Only in the last two months or so have I been able to understand some of the concepts. And when you understand those, it becomes so much easier."
And according to Robinson, it's not just working in combination with another route to his side, but the details within.
"It's not even the combinations, but how the other receivers run their routes, how it's supposed to be run (depth) and how your route is affected by their route. It's a more encompassing view of the game."
One that will offer endless opportunities for growth -- and leaping touchdowns -- during his time in South Bend.