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AFA's Jalen Robinette tries to maintain focus as cadet with NFL Draft two weeks away

April 14, 2017 Updated: April 14, 2017 at 5:34 pm
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Air Force wide reciever Jalen Robinette, left, cheers for the Falcon basketball team during the second half Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, at Clune Arena on the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. Wyoming won 83-74. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Jalen Robinette found a quiet corner during medical testing at the NFL Combine and pulled out his Critical Decisions in Space homework.

The Air Force class presents full pre-flight scenarios to read before completing a series of questions.

Robinette, who in two weeks could become the highest NFL Draft selection from a service academy in the Super Bowl era, remains very much immersed in the cadet lifestyle - difficult as that may be with the clock winding toward the finish.

"I think it's just hard being a senior at the academy," the 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver said. "Going through the prep school, we call it the five-year program. It's pretty long. It's not a burned-out feeling, but I'm just eager to start the next chapter with whatever happens, whether I serve or if I keep playing."

So far, it appears Robinette will have the option of playing if a team wants him. Air Force's Garrett Griffin and Navy's Keenan Reynolds and Chris Swain were allowed to serve on reserve status this past year after the Department of Defense loosened service restrictions for graduates from the academies with professional sports opportunities. Falcons seniors Jacob Onyechi (outside linebacker), Weston Steelhammer (defensive back) and Ryan Watson (defensive end) are among the others who could find themselves with an NFL shot, but Robinette remains the best bet.

Robinette played in a pair of all-star games in January, becoming the first Air Force player in the Senior Bowl. He was also invited to the Combine, the first for a the program this century.

He hasn't been invited for any private workouts, but the assumption on his part is that teams have had plenty of opportunities to assess his abilities between those stops, Air Force's pro day and four years of game action that saw Robinette set Air Force's all-time record with 2,697 receiving yards.

Some mock drafts have placed the Ohio native as high as a second-round pick. He doesn't have any idea how it will play out in reality.

"If I could sum it up, I'm really just playing the waiting game and counting down to the draft," he said. "Just keeping my phone on. We'll see what happens."

As he finishes up his current load of six classes, Robinette has no choice but to remain very much a cadet. Even as he was routinely working out in advance of the Combine, he was a fixture in the stands at basketball games. He said he routinely fields questions from fellow cadets about his draft status and has received both support and help from good friends who want to "make sure my head's straight and level."

He knows that whatever happens at the NFL Draft later this month and then on the field, he'll be forever intertwined with Air Force. And he's fine with that, particularly if it can add to the academy's bragging rights.

He noted the excitement over then-senior David Higgins earning a spot on the U.S. rifle team for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games this past summer. One of his classmates, pitcher Griffin Jax, was a third-round selection in the MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins last year. This past week sophomore goalie Shane Starrett announced he'll leave the academy early - which you can do before starting classes as a junior - to sign with the NHL's Edmonton Oilers.

"We are a military school and we produce great officers, but we also have some talent here and people who do a lot of amazing things," Robinette said. "We pride ourselves on versatility, as far as being superior academically, militarily and also athletically. I think in that athletically category I think it's great that we can maybe have a few guys who can take the opportunity to play in the next league and represent the academy on the big stage. That just gives the academy another tool for recruiting.

"And just bragging rights."

Robinette must wait two more weeks to find out exactly what kind of draft position he'll have to brag about. He plans to watch, but he also expects to bring some homework along with him.

Top service academy NFL Draft selections since 1960

The NFL Draft begins on April 27 and will include 253 selections over seven rounds, with Air Force's Jalen Robinette among those expected to be picked. Here's a full list of service academy players taken in the top 253 in the draft since 1960.

Round Pick Year Team Player Pos. Academy

4 108 1986 L.A. Raiders Napolean McCallum RB Navy

5 166 2015 New England Joe Cardona LS Navy

6 168 1994 New England Max Lane T Navy

6 178 1997 San Diego Dan Palmer C Air Force

6 182 2016 Baltimore Keenan Reynolds WR Navy

7 183 1993 Green Bay Bob Kuberski NT Navy

6 186 1995 Detroit Kevin Hickman TE Navy

7 218 1995 Denve Steve Russ LB Air Force

7 218 2008 Detroit Caleb Campbell DB Army

7 240 199 Green Bay Ronnie McAda QB Army

7 248 1999 Buffalo Bryce Fisher DT Air Force

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