CENTENNIAL, Colo. (AP) — Except for the few who already have donned cap and gown, most of the 330 prospects heading to the NFL Combine next week have put their pursuits of a college degree on hold so they can focus on their football futures.
They’ve traded campus life for high-tech gyms where they’re trimming milliseconds off their 40-yard dashes and three-cone drills and facing mock interviews to prepare for the grilling from general managers in Indianapolis. Then, they retreat to their condos to rest, relax and recuperate while wolfing down meals managed to the calorie through meal services arranged by their agents.
Not Jalen Robinette.
The Air Force cadet and NFL hopeful who led the nation in yards per catch last year is carrying six courses while working out with ex-Stanford star Christian McCaffrey and 27 other pro football hopefuls at the Landow Performance training facility in suburban Denver.
“I’m a 23-year-old student in the dorm room,” said Robinette, who makes the roughly 100-mile round-trip commute from the Air Force Academy six days a week, hitting the books in the morning and the weights in the afternoon.
“My plate is still full, but I’m enjoying it,” Robinette said. “I stay pretty busy. I’ve always looked at the big picture, which is pretty much why I came to the academy.”
His rigorous course load includes military strategic studies, “Power to Influence in Organizations” and “Critical Decisions in Space,” which delves into the first moon landing in 1969 and the Challenger space shuttle explosion in 1986.
“We actually dive into the recent history and get to talk about the choices and the decisions behind that, why we weren’t ready to launch with the Challenger. New information that’s recently been declassified. It’s really interesting,” Robinette said. “… It’s really cool.”
It’s all part of an education that’s preparing him to be a leader whether on the battle field or the football field.
At a shade under 6-foot-4 and just shy of 220 pounds, Robinette reminds some scouts of Denver Broncos star receiver Demaryius Thomas, who came out of Georgia Tech’s triple option offense.
Robinette’s hallmarks are similar to Thomas’: he has a propensity for big plays, he has great hands, his concentration on contested balls is splendid and his run blocking is superb.
Despite averaging less than three catches a game, he drew enough notice to become the first Falcons receiver invited to the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.
Robinette caught just 35 passes his senior season but they covered 959 yards for an NCAA-best 27.4-yard average , and he had six touchdown receptions. Over his four seasons for the Falcons, he caught 120 passes for 2,697 yards and 18 touchdowns.
A former high school quarterback, he also threw six passes, completing three — all for touchdowns.
He knows he could have gone to another school and put up bigger numbers like Clemson’s Mike Williams or Western Michigan’s Corey Davis. But he said he’s never once regretted choosing Air Force, not even when he caught just 16 passes his freshman year.
“I knew I was in the right place despite the stats,” said Robinette, who sports an Air Force lightning bolt tattoo on his left bicep. “I’ve never been huge on stats. I just like to play.”
And he won’t have to wait two years to play in the pros, either, like former Air Force and current Atlanta Falcons lineman Ben Garland had to do.
After Navy standout QB Keenan Reynolds was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens last year, the U.S. Department of Defense changed its policy for service academy athletes who are offered the opportunity to play professionally. Now, they can receive reserve appointments upon graduation and start their pro careers immediately rather than having to serving two years of active duty first.
“That’s just an opportunity you can’t pass up,” Robinette said. “The academy, it’s rigorous and we require a certain type of person. It’s not for everyone. But just having the opportunity to play football after that, it’s dessert. It’s icing on the cake.”
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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