Thanks to Jalen Robinette and pro policy, spotlight will shine on Air Force football at Pro Day

March 20, 2017 Updated: March 21, 2017 at 10:54 am
photo - Air Force wide receiver Jalen Robinette runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Air Force wide receiver Jalen Robinette runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine Saturday, March 4, 2017, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip) 

Air Force hosts a Pro Day every year, giving its senior football players a chance as their last act as academy athletes to make a first impression with NFL scouts.

But this year's Pro Day figures to be different, and not just because it has a headliner in Jalen Robinette.

Academy graduates have a new option of playing sports professionally immediately instead of first serving at least 24 months on active duty. This, combined with a deep senior class that includes Robinette has added weight to the event. More than a dozen NFL scouts figure to be on hand, whereas previous years saw maybe three or four. There has been no media coverage of the event over the past four years, but this year more than 10 media outlets reached out to the academy about access.

In short, the stakes have been raised. And the academy has welcomed the attention.

"Any vehicle where we can get people to better understand this incredible academy that we're all a part of is certainly great for both the academy and for our nation," athletic director Jim Knowlton said.

Much of the attention has centered on Robinette, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver who participated in a pair of all-star games (East-West Shrine Game and Senior Bowl) and became the first Falcon in more than 20 years to earn an invitation to the NFL Combine.

The official Air Force football Twitter account has promoted Robinette's offseason journey in a departure from the academy's previous stance to largely stay quiet when it comes to mentioning a player's pro prospects.

"Want to be a leader in the Air Force & play in the @NFL? Well, @Jalen Robinette is doing this!" the account wrote as it shared a link to a television story on Robinette's Combine preparation.

Knowlton said there wasn't a directive in the department to promote players and their professional pursuits, but at the same time he doesn't feel this is at odds with the academy's purpose. That mission, he said, is to develop leaders of character to serve the Air Force and the nation and the athletic department's piece in that is to do this through physical competition. It is up the Air Force, and not its academy, to decide how best to utilize those graduates be it at medical or law school, or, in this case, serving in the Ready Reserve as a professional athlete.

"I don't think the academy has really changed how we look at this," Knowlton said. "The (Department of Defense) did change the policy and add another option for an exception, but I don't think it would be fair to say that the academy is now pushing this or celebrating this. It's just an option that is there and will be used very judiciously and it's really a decision that will be made by the Air Force as to where a young man or woman can be best used.

"I don't think anybody has sat down and said, 'Hey, we're promoting the NFL.' I think in this particular case we have a special athlete who's doing things that we haven't really seen an athlete have the opportunity for. In Jalen's case he's going to the Combine, he's going to all-star games, and so I think there is some excitement about that."

Robinette is driving much of that excitement, but Tuesday will also be an opportunity for some of his classmates like Weston Steelhammer - who also played in the East-West Shrine Game - or 3,000-yard rusher Jacobi Owens to take advantage of the increased exposure. Jalen Lacy never settled into a regular role on Air Force's defense, but he's got a frame (at 6-foot-4 and more than 250 pounds) and athleticism as a former quarterback that just might gain attention. The history of sports is full of players who first gained notice because scouts were there to watch someone else.

The key is to have someone watching, and because of many factors, Air Force will have that on Tuesday.

Spring game confirmed

Air Force announced on Twitter that its spring game will be played at Douglas County High School in Castle Rock at 10 a.m. on April 8.

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