AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — As the ball spiraled toward Corey Robinson, the freshman receiver could only think one thing.
“I gotta catch this,” he thought. “I’ve got to represent Navy.”
Robinson, the son of former NBA great and Navy alumnus David Robinson, knew he couldn’t disappoint his dad in front of service academy rival Air Force. So when Tommy Rees’ 35-yard pass hit Robinson’s fingertips, he grabbed the ball over the Falcon defender and stuttered into the end zone
Notre Dame’s first points of the game were also Robinson’s first points as a college receiver. To the freshman, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“My dad wanted to come out to every game this year, and I thought, ‘That might be a little over the top, Dad,’” Robinson said, laughing. “But actually being here and having my first touchdown catch and seeing my dad in the stands, that’s special.”
Robinson’s score broke the dam for Notre Dame’s offense, which posted 45 points on a tissue-thin Air Force defense. Robinson received his end zone baptism alongside two other teammates in the 45-10 win Saturday, Oct. 26.
Rees handed out first-time touchdowns like Halloween candy, first to Robinson, then to freshman Will Fuller for a 46-yard connection on the following series and finally to sophomore Chris Brown late in the third quarter.
Rees would target five receivers for five scores, a personal best and a school record for most receivers catching a touchdown in one game. Rees likely could have done more damage, but he sat out the entire fourth quarter.
Robinson and Fuller’s scores marked the first time multiple Notre Dame freshmen caught touchdown passes in a single game since Sept. 29, 2007, when Golden Tate and Duval Kamara both scored against Purdue.
Why the sudden barrage of receivers not named TJ Jones (Though he scored, too) and DaVaris Daniels? Thank the Rocky Mountains.
“We knew we were going to play a lot of guys,” Rees said. “We wanted to make sure guys were fresh, especially with the change of altitude. We had a lot of different bodies in there and we had confidence in those young guys to make plays for us.”
It was a long time coming for head coach Brian Kelly, who pointed to stiff competition early in the season as the main reason the younger players haven’t had a chance to shine.
“I’d like to have these guys in Week 1 and Week 2 doing this,” Kelly said. “You’d like to get these kinds of opportunities for these young guys early because it obviously builds their confidence. They’re a confident group, so we get them involved. It’s important to their development, but we had to sit on them a bit longer than you want because you’re playing such tough competition.”
Ben Koyack and Jones accounted for the other two passing touchdowns in the game. It was Koyack’s second career touchdown.
Jones, Notre Dame’s most valuable target, stood as the odd man out on Saturday. It was his fifth consecutive game with at least one score.