To reach the pinnacle of success, humility is an essential trait. Realizing you don’t know everything can lead you, possibly, to learning more than you ever imagined.
Last year, Nickell Robey traveled across the country to enroll at USC. He knew he was skilled, was able to play right away, but he also knew he didn’t know everything.
“If you didn’t ask questions how would you even understand this game?” Robey said.
So the cornerback asked questions. Sure, he asked his coaches where to line up and his teammates how to play the zone in a Cover 2 (his high school ran a 3-3-5), but he asked opposite-side cornerback Shareece Wright about the intangibles.
“Coming in I just really had to be around [Wright] a lot,” Robey said. “If he wouldn’t have been here I don’t know if I would be starting. He was key for me because I really used him the best way I could.”
Aside from their frame, the two players are relatively different backs. More than four years separate their birth, three inches their height and 13 their jersey numbers. Wright is skilled at forecasting situations, forcing sacks and fumbles, whereas Robey excels at following the ball and pacing a receiver, always ready to catch or deflect a pass.
“I took him under my wing just by letting him know the ins and outs about being a college football player and being a freshman,” Wright said. “He was open to me and took all the advice I gave him.”
One piece of advice Wright, a recent draft pick of the San Diego Chargers, gave Robey happened naturally, without so many words: how to become a leader. Come Fall, Robey will be expected to pick up Wright's former leadership role and lead USC’s secondary, along with safety and junior T.J. McDonald.
“That’s something I’m comfortable with, I have no problems taking a leadership role. You have to make decisions that are right for you and the team,” Robey said. “Being a leader is not just about doing right in front of the team it’s about doing right period.”
The Frostproof, Fla. native acknowledged he won’t be as loud as guys like McDonald, but said he’ll work as hard as anyone and let that be its own example.
“I saw that [Robey] wanted to be a great player from day one so it was easy for me to help him. I always tell him he’s going to be better than I was when I was a college football player and he has the skills and potential,” Wright said.
Wright has lofty expectations for Robey. But nobody has any higher than Robey himself.
“My freshman year I proved that I can execute. That I can catch, do the basic things. But now it’s like the mentality—can I do the small things right and take my game to the next level? I have to find a way to kick it up a notch,” Robey said.
Every Saturday last year, as Robey positioned himself near the line, he’d take a quick glance at the other hash, and see his role model.
But Wright also became a brother to Robey in that season. Robey, a Super Prep All-Dixie and Wright, a Super Prep All-American, didn’t just bond over stats and footwork. Their family struggles connected them. As roommates at away games, they shared stories of Robey’s mom passing, or Wright’s personal setbacks. The two looked over the playbook, watched film and grew together.
“I told him that I was going to help him do better than I did by letting him know about my experiences and the things I went through,” Wright said.
And as much as Robey appreciates everything Wright taught him, his goal is to take his ‘brother’s’ experience, learn from it and sprint after his goals.
“I’d like to have a way better career. I shoot for the stars. I’m pretty hard on myself, so I expect a lot of myself and I expect a lot of my teammates,” Robey said. “I wont say I’m satisfied right now, I always try to push myself to do new things.”
“He’s a good kid with a big heart. Football is something that he’s serious about,” Wright said.
That serious mindset, with a year of starting experience under his belt puts Robey in a position to already take newbie defensive backs under his wing. But unlike Wright, Robey doesn’t think they’ll be better than he can be.
“I’m here for a reason so there’s no question about that. Knowing that I have the next dude trying to beat me that’s my most fearful thing and it’s what keeps me running,” Robey said.