Shortly after arriving at the University of Southern Mississippi in the summer or 2014, Korey Robertson wondered what on earth he had gotten himself into.
After a standout football career at Greenwood High School resulting in All-State accolades, Robertson found himself back at square one.
“Coming out of high school and jumping straight into a different environment, it was kind of tough,” Robertson said after a recent practice for USM’s Dec. 27 Independence Bowl date with Florida State University.
“I just had to get used to it, and as time went on, I did get used to it. It was a rollercoaster, man, coming straight out of high school.”
But, just as he had in high school, Robertson persevered.
After red-shirting his first season, Robertson made strides the next two years, playing a supporting in the passing game to the likes of Mike Thomas and Casey Martin in 2015 and Allenzae Stagger and D.J. Thompson in 2016.
This fall, Robertson bloomed into football force of nature, turning in one of the finest seasons ever by a Golden Eagle.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Robertson led USM with 72 catches for 1,070 yards and 11 touchdowns in 12 games. The catches rank second on USM’s single-season list behind Martin’s 80, the touchdowns tied for fourth with Todd Pinkston and the yardage sixth.
“I’ve been here before,” Robertson said of his year-by-year improvement. “It’s like high school. I’m doing the same thing that I did in high school, where it just builds up every year. I just got better every year.”
Robertson became just the fifth Golden Eagle in program history with 10 touchdown receptions or more in a season and the sixth to crack the 1,000-yard receiving plateau in a year. He has caught at least one pass in every game over the past two seasons, 25 consecutive games.
“The ability was there,” Robertson said. “I just had to put everything together. I just had to work. In the offseason, I worked, catching extra passes, just doing everything I could. It was everything.
“Working hard was important, but the puzzle came together. It just all came together.”
Robertson has recorded five, 100-yard games this season, with a career-high nine catches for 127 yards against Louisiana Tech University and eight catches for a career-high 152 yards against Rice University.
He has caught two touchdowns against four different opponents, including Tech, Rice, University of Kentucky and University of Louisiana-Monroe. In a double-overtime victory at Tech, he broke two tackles to score the game-tying touchdown inside the last 30 seconds of regulation and then caught the game-winning touchdown pass on USM’s first play of the second overtime.
USM coach Jay Hopson said Golden Eagles’ coaches noticed a difference in Robertson during the run up to the 2017 season.
“Korey’s a guy who had a tremendous spring and summer,” Hopson said. “He’s been working hard for a year and you’re seeing it pay off on Saturdays. He’s put in a lot of sweat equity.”
The sturdily-built Robertson has excelled in 50-50, one-on-one opportunities and turned good gains into big plays by eluding defenders and breaking tackles.
“During the offseason, I’d work on it, catching the ball and then running like 10 yards, 20 yards, down the field, working on extra yards after I catch the ball,” Robertson said.
Robertson caught 147 passes for 2,340 yards and 26 touchdowns during his high school career at Greenwood, joining another former Bulldog on USM’s list of 1,000-yard receivers, Sherrod Gideon, the only Golden Eagle with two, 1,000-yard receiving seasons.
Gideon was a youth football coach when Robertson was roaming Greenwood’s pee wee football fields.
“I never saw him play, but I saw the highlights, and I knew him, knew him, personally, so I knew his background and where he played at,” Robertson said.
Gideon, who earned the nickname “Quick Six” during his playing days in Hattiesburg, encouraged Robertson to take a long look at USM.
“I talked to Sherrod after Southern Miss had offered me, and he was like, ‘Man, that’s a great place to be,’” Robertson said. “So, I came down on my visit.
“It all played a big role.”
Playing receiver also was a priority for Robertson, who had been recruited by other programs to play on the other side of the football.
“I had other schools like Mississippi State and Auburn looking at me at (defensive back),” Robertson said. “Southern Miss wanted me to play receiver, and I wanted to play receiver, so I came here. That’s how that fell out.”
USM defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro said he’d take Robertson in heartbeat.
“He could be an outside backer, easily.” Pecoraro said. I’ll take him tomorrow.
“He’s way thicker than you think, when you think of receivers. But that’s one of his advantages, running as fast he does and being as big as he is. He uses body control to go up and catch the ball.”
And Robertson said he just intends to continue honing his craft at the position he has embraced.
“Confidence can play a big role, but most of the time, I just go out there and play with a chip on my shoulder,” Robertson said. “When your time comes, you just have to take advantage of it, and that’s what I think I did.”