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'It’s going to take at least a month or two': Agents working to re-open pro doors to Air Force athletes

May 6, 2017 Updated: May 6, 2017 at 9:08 pm
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AFA wide receiver Jalen Robinette reacts to scoring a touch down during the AFA season opener against Abilene Christian University at Falcon Stadium on Saturday, September 3, 2016. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

An Air Force athletic department spokesman laughed out loud at the suggestion. But was it really that far-fetched?

An agent representing a senior Falcons football player told The Gazette it was his understanding that Air Force coaches met with members of Congress for the purpose of lobbying support for NFL-hopeful players while in Washington, D.C., to meet President Trump last week.

The Air Force spokesman shot down that notion, laughing at the idea that coaches would be able to have such conversations given the strict chain of command within the military.

So maybe that wasn’t one of the specific routes taken, but there are other avenues being explored to try to re-open a door to professional sports that was slammed shut on the 2017 seniors last week as the NFL draft was taking place.

The Denver Post reported Saturday that David Lisko, Jalen Robinette’s agent who doubles as a litigation attorney, is fighting to make this senior class exempt from the policy shift that again requires service academy graduates to serve two years on active duty before being transferred to Ready Reserves for the purpose of playing professional sports.

Lisko is with Holland & Knight, one of the nation’s most influential law firms that the Post says has reach that extends to policy-makers in Washington and ties to the Trump administration.

The aim, according The Post and The Gazette's conversations with agents, would be the make the current class grandfathered under the 2016 policy that allowed grads to immediately apply for reserve status and play professionally.

Justin VanFulpen, who represents senior defensive end Ryan Watson – who will attend rookie minicamp with the Arizona Cardinals – confirmed that work is underway on many fronts to try and open doors.

“Everybody’s trying to figure it out,” VanFulpen said. “It’s going to take at least a month or two.”

In the meantime, Air Force players are finding their way into rookie minicamps as undrafted and unsigned free agents. Weston Steelhammer will work out with the Philadelphia Eagles, Jacob Onyechi with the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints, Sam Byers with the Atlanta Falcons and Watson with the Cardinals.

It is not yet known where – or if – Robinette will attend a minicamp.

If VanFulpen’s timeline is correct and the issue isn’t resolved for more than a month, uncertainty could creep into the MLB draft that begins June 12. Jacob DeVries (a left-handed pitcher taken by the Cleveland Indians in the 38th round last year), Bradley Haslam (a shortstop and career .378 hitter) and Tyler Jones (an outfielder who entered the season as Baseball American’s No. 10 Mountain West prospect) would be among the Falcons players with potential of being selected.

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