Nov. 12, 2016
By Todd Burlage
Corey Robinson's day usually begins around 8 a.m. and typically runs nonstop until about 10 p.m., sometimes later.
As a graduate student, a Rhodes scholar candidate, a volunteer assistant football coach, a gifted musician, an all-around good guy and, oh yeah, the Notre Dame student body president, Robinson doesn't have much lounge-around time.
"The central mission with everything I do in my life is to serve," says Robinson, demonstrating a wisdom well beyond most 21-year-old college students. "How can I serve whomever in whatever environment I'm in--whether I'm in the classroom, or on the football field, or being in the student government office?
"My schedule can be overwhelming at times, and there must be some prioritizing for organizational purposes, just so I can make sure I have enough time to sleep."
Robinson's desire to squeeze every ounce of insight from each academic, political and athletic opportunity Notre Dame provides makes him a perfect role model--and a bit of a celebrity--back in South Bend.
And as Robinson made his homecoming to San Antonio for this Shamrock Series weekend, the same respect and adoration was waiting for him deep in the heart of Texas as well.
A busy weekend indeed, Robinson juggled several guest appearances around San Antonio during this Notre Dame football festival with his responsibilities as a student assistant wide receiver coach with the Irish. Robinson helps lead a position group he was a member of as a junior last year and a unit that he had every expectation of being a part of again this year.
Set to graduate early with a degree in liberal studies, Robinson gave serious consideration to passing on his senior football season, leaving Notre Dame and entering the work world in the same way teammate Steve Elmer did last February.
But when the opportunity arose to run for student body president, the temptation for Robinson to return to campus, lead, study, serve and finish his football career at Notre Dame became irresistible.
"I love this team and I love this University," said Robinson, when asked what pulled him back to Notre Dame. "I wanted to make a difference on campus and give back to the community that has given me so much."
Robinson's swift decision to run for campus president left him only 10 days to build a political team and organize a campaign … talk about a grassroots effort.
With the help of his vice president running mate Rebecca Blais, chief of staff Michael Markel and whomever else he could round up, Robinson devised a strategy, passed out flyers and personally knocked on nearly every dorm door throughout the entire Notre Dame campus to share a message of inclusiveness, change and transparency.
"We want to rebrand student government in a different way," Robinson says. "We want to rebrand student government as approachable, as innovative, as creative and as problem solvers who make tangible change for our community."
And through a five-pillar platform built by Robinson and his election committee--made up of health and wellness, sexual assault prevention, diversity and inclusion, community engagement and sustainability--they won the election in February, making Robinson the first football player to become POUND (President Of UND) in almost 100 years.
"That was a crazy and exhausting run," says Robinson, who at the time was also prepping to start spring football.
With 65 catches and 896 yards during his first three seasons at Notre Dame, Robinson was clearly the most experienced and productive returning Irish wide receiver in March when spring ball opened, and a sure second- or third-round NFL Draft pick after the 2016 season if mock draft projections held up.
But during spring workouts, Robinson suffered his third concussion, a moment that caused the re-evaluation of a football career and future endeavors.
"How do I balance this idea of my personal health long-term versus short-term?" Robinson asks. "That was the toughest decision ever because I love this team and I love this University and I couldn't imagine a life without football and being around this team. But at the same time, I wanted to make sure I had the cognitive function to live the rest of my life."
It took Robinson about two months to work through what he calls "an intense internal struggle," complete with lots of feedback from family, friends, coaches, teammates, doctors and specialists to finally reach a decision to retire from football.
"I want to be clear," Robinson says, "it was not that I gave up football to pursue other things on campus or other extracurricular activities--that was never part of the decision. This choice was made based on what was best for my long-term health."
With his playing days behind but a passion for Notre Dame football stronger than ever, Robinson became a student-coach, a position that allows him to teach the younger receivers in a different voice and perspective from the full-time coaches.
"Leadership takes different forms," says Irish head coach Brian Kelly. "Corey's leadership style is very positive—he reaffirms. He's very good at carrying the message on a day-to-day basis for me. He's been a very good leader."
Word, example and, of course, service, define how Robinson operates.
"Corey's investment to the team is one of presence, he's here every single day," Kelly says. "As the student body president, you could easily make the excuse of, 'Hey, I’ve got a meeting, I can't be there.' Football has been a priority for him."
That's because commitment is what drives a young man of such high character.
There is so much more to Corey Robinson than football and politics.
Following the lead of his famous father--10-time NBA All-Star David Robinson--Corey carries a long and varied interest list and a catalog of life experiences and lessons from which to draw.
Corey has studied in South Africa, Brazil and the Middle East. He is fluent in several languages and, like his father, he is also a gifted musician.
"I've learned from a very young age that you do everything the right way," Corey says. "Whether that be in sports, or that be in service, or that be in business, everything you do, you do in the right way. That's probably the best kind of influence that I've had."
After retiring from the NBA in 2003, David Robinson, the elder statesman, returned to school and earned a master's degree in administration. He then launched a private equity firm and started a school in San Antonio called Carver Academy that is aimed in large part at helping lower-income students.
Music is also a big part of the Robinson household. Corey plays the piano, guitar, flute, mandolin, drums, saxophone, ukulele and even a pan flute he bought at a flea market in Costa Rica. Corey's father plays everything from bass guitar and piano to flute and saxophone.
Corey recently showcased his musical talents on campus at a pep rally before the Duke game when he shared the stage and jammed with legendary rocker Todd Rundgren.
"The importance of music to me, it's hard to put into words," Corey says. "You just convey so many different emotions. It can make you happy, and it can feel for you when you're sad or disappointed. It is so therapeutic, and it also very comforting. Music will always be a big part of my life."
As will his time at Notre Dame.
Ask Corey what his four years at the University have meant, and this interesting young man runs down a checklist that he'll forever carry with him.
"It's a community that has challenged me," he says. "It has stretched me to my limits, but it has always made me stronger. It's a place that is a refuge for me and a safe haven but, at the same time, it's a place that has always allowed me to grow. It's been everything to me."
Then ask Corey Robinson where he sees himself in five years and, not surprisingly, there's no point in worrying about the future because there's too much to be accomplished in the present.
"Maybe the technology sector, maybe something in art, hospitality, education, maybe finance. I don't know yet," he says, demonstrating the breadth of his career options.
"Right now my head is down. So once I get my head up after the school year, we'll see what opportunities present themselves."
And as for what role Notre Dame played in creating these options? Much of it, Robinson says.
"Notre Dame transcends location, it transcends time, it transcends place. It's really special to be part of it," he says. "And to live here and to try to pour something back into this University through service have been some of the greatest joys of my life."
Todd Burlage is a freelance writer from South Bend.