Nickell Robey might only stand 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, but perhaps no other defensive performer played bigger over the past three seasons for the Trojans. Arriving on campus in 2010 as a phenomenal two-way talent out of Frostproof (Fla.), he would go on to make a lightning-quick impact, becoming the first USC true freshman to start a season opener at cornerback in the post-World War II era. Never relinquishing that role, Robey established himself as a lockdown corner with a nose for the ball, finishing his career with 163 tackles and seven interceptions -- three of which he returned for touchdowns, tying the program’s career record set by Charles Phillips.
A first-team All-Pac 12 selection in 2011 and a second-team selection last season, Robey forgoed his final season of eligibility at USC to make himself available for the NFL draft -- set to start Thursday. Having now concluded a very hectic workout and testing schedule that included a standout Pro Day outing, Robey took time out to talk to WeAreSC.
WeAreSC: What have you been up to since the end of the season in terms of preparing for the NFL draft?
Robey: The process has been really good for the most part. I was training over in Houston, Texas, and then I came back to Florida with my personal trainer before Pro Day. I’ve been really busy since the season ended, but I’ve just been trying to have fun with it. I’m pretty content with where I’m at right now. I’m really excited. I just can’t wait to hear my name called and to go into my profession.
WeAreSC: Your mother passed away shortly after you signed with USC coming out of high school, but I know that you’ve remained especially close to your younger sister, Maranda, who moved in with your aunt. How is she doing these days, and what kind of role did your desire to take care of her play in your decision to leave for the NFL after your junior campaign?
Robey: My sister is doing good. When my mom passed, she had a tough road. She had to step up and lead on her own. She’s been doing a good job as far as dealing with the death. She’s getting ready for college -- she has another year of high school. And in regard to my role as a big brother, I turned into more of a father. I had to make sure that she had everything that she needed. I needed to make sure that she had a smile on her face. That played a heavy role in me deciding to leave early. I feel like things happen for a reason, and SC was a great time -- I competed and I played all three years. I had a lot of fun and I wouldn’t take any of my actions or decisions back.
WeAreSC: Talk about playing your home games in the Coliseum and what that experience meant to you?
Robey: It was great to know that I was playing in one of the most historic places in America. USC has a big legacy and a big history, and to be out there, it humbled me, personally, to know that I played on the same field as Ronnie Lott, O.J. Simpson, Reggie Bush and guys like that -- it was an amazing feeling. That’s something that I will always remember, and the legacy is going to live on, and that’s part of being in the Trojan family. And just to experience that and to take it in, and now to be a part of it and to know that I am a Trojan -- I was just fortunate to be a part of it and to have a good career at USC.
WeAreSC: Is there a particular coach at USC who had an especially profound impact on you?
Robey: Monte Kiffin. He recruited me back from when he was at Tennessee. When he first came up to me in high school, I was like, ‘That’s Monte Kiffin, an NFL coach telling me how good I am.’ And then he was with me when I went through everything with my mom, and he really supported me. When he was recruiting me, it wasn’t just about recruiting me, he knew me as a person. That’s what separated him from the rest of the coaches from the beginning.
WeAreSC: Go back to your interception against Andrew Luck that you took back for a touchdown in 2011. What did you see on the play? It’s taken on a bit of a life of its own lately with Jon Gruden talking about on his QB camp series.
Robey: They ran that play a few times before that actually happened. He looked to that side, and then when I thought he was going to throw it, he turned his shoulders, and when he did that I knew he had to throw quick because it was a three-step drop. So, I saw his shoulders turn back towards the field and then I saw the receiver cut his route, and that’s when I just broke down on the route and took a chance, and he threw it and I got the interception for a touchdown. I just remember the energy in the stadium after that play – it was crazy. I’ll always remember that.
WeAreSC: What will you miss most about being a student at USC?
Robey: I would say just being able to hang out with your peers -- the people that you know and the people who you’ve built up relationships with -- and just the environment. USC is a great place, and the people -- they’re really cool people. When you go there, you automatically get attached to that environment and the people, and that’s what made me want to come to USC.
WeAreSC: You were working on a degree in public policy and development at USC prior to your departure. Do you plan to come back in the future to finish up?
Robey: I do plan on coming back and getting my degree. I’m about a semester and a half short right now.
WeAreSC: As a guy who came all the way out from Florida, what has it been like living on the West Coast for the last three years. Is it safe to say that Los Angeles is a second home for you now?
Robey: Oh, definitely. L.A. is definitely a second home to me now. Just being there for three years, I became a slice of a California kid. It was rocky at first, but I got over it. I just kept my mind on what I needed to get done and on what was most important, but it took me a good year and a half to get honed in on everything that was going on, and getting used to the big city.
WeAreSC: If you had one message to send to USC fans, what would it be?
Robey: Fight on forever. I love all of my fans.