USC Trojans Football: The Nickell Robey Story

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USC Trojans Football: The Nickell Robey Story

In Rick McMahan's article “USC’s 10-Toughest Players,” he highlighted sophomore Nickell Robey’s toughness playing as a true freshman last year.

USC fans know Robey (5’7", 165lbs) came in as a true freshman (18 years old) from Frostproof, Florida and impressed first year head coach Lane Kiffin so much in Fall Camp that Robey became the first true freshman to start the season at cornerback for USC in the post-World War II era.

During that Fall Camp, defensive backs coach Willie Mack Garza had this to say about Robey:

[H]is pure dedication and commitment, his willingness to study on a regular basis, to ask questions, to be in his playbook—I think that speaks volumes about his love for the game of football. He works extremely hard, he studies, he does the little things that it takes to understand offenses, and I think that's what makes him so good.

This work ethic and desire resulted in starting all 13 games and having 48 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, four pass deflections, four interceptions (led the team) and one touchdown. This earned Robey All-Pac-10 Honourable Mention. As well, during Spring Camp this year, Kiffin said Robey was one of only a few USC players who looked like NFL-ready players.

Just this alone was quite the feat for an 18-year-old playing amongst men. This showed how tough he is on the field, competing day in and day out to be the best he can be.

However, this just showed his toughness on the field while at USC.

What many don’t know about Robey is what happened before he came to USC that would forever change his outlook on life and prove just how strong his mental toughness is.

A highly touted defensive back in high school (4-stars) out of Frostproof, Florida, Robey had originally committed to Georgia. When the school fired its defensive co-coordinator, Robey reopened his commitment and caught the eyes of then-Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin.

When Kiffin accepted the USC head coaching job, Robey pledged his commitment to USC and signed on National Signing Day. Robey and his family were very happy that he would have a chance to play at one of the premiere football schools in the nation and receive a top flight education.

However, shortly after signing day and just a few weeks before Robey was set to travel across the country to attend summer classes at USC, his mother passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack. The shock of losing a family member is immense, but to lose your own mother as a teenager when you are set to travel across the country for school is unfathomable.

When the USC coaches heard of the news, they understood if Robey wanted a release from his letter of intent to stay closer to home to be with his family—but Robey stuck to his commitment wanting to attend USC and never had second thoughts.

“No, no, never.  I’m still with USC,” he said. “They (USC coaching staff) talked to me, and everything was all right.  I told them I still want to come out there.”

He also credited the USC coaching staff for their support during his hard time.

“I got closer with the coaches.  It really tightened up the relationship with us. We’d chat weekly about whatever, life in general.  Monte, Kiffin and Willie Mack Garza, I really got a closer bond with them, them being my defensive coaches.  They’ve been really supportive to me and made sure I was okay.”

His mother played a big role in his recruitment and had said she wanted him to attend USC.

Robey kept to what his mother wanted for him and stayed enrolled at USC.

“Time goes on.  My family understands what I have to do...of course you miss your family.  I just got to keep focused.  I know what I’m going there for, and I feel like I made the right decision.”

He may now only be 19,  5’8" and 170lbs, but his make-up is of a full grown man. Nothing should be able to slow down Robey with his superb work ethic and mental toughness.

The sky is the limit on the football field and also a feel-good story for what he has overcome.

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