Air Force's Jalen Robinette eyes NFL dream in heart of Broncos country

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Tactically speaking, Jalen Robinette understands he is surrounded by all things Broncos.

As he makes round-trip commutes of 100 or so miles from the Air Force Academy to suburban Denver for workouts leading up to the NFL's scouting combine later this month, Robinette drives through the heart of Denver Broncos country. His coach at Air Force, Troy Calhoun, is a former Broncos assistant, having been on Mike Shanahan's staff from 2003 to 2005.

His trainer, Loren Landow, tends to several current and former Broncos. On a recent weekday afternoon, Robinette was doing drills just a few feet from Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe. And Robinette just watched a Super Bowl in which former Broncos guard Ben Garland, who also attended Air Force, was in uniform for the Atlanta Falcons.

"So, no question, you can't really miss it here," Robinette said. "There are plenty of reminders about the Broncos all around. It kind of serves to let you know what's out there: the Broncos, the NFL, the opportunity."

Robinette is on track to graduate May 24 from the Air Force Academy and hopes to know his NFL fate in April's draft. He is also about to complete what is considered a rare service-academy trifecta in NFL draft circles.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound wide receiver participated in the East-West Shrine Game, the Senior Bowl and will be at the combine in Indianapolis. He was the first Air Force player to participate in the Senior Bowl.

He is also among the first wave of service-academy players whose football futures could benefit from a U.S. Department of Defense ruling last July. The decision allows athletes at the service academies such as Robinette to forego the minimum two-year active duty stint upon graduation if they sign a professional contract.

If drafted -- several teams have Robinette as a midround pick -- or signed as an undrafted rookie, Robinette could play immediately and satisfy his postgraduate military commitment in the reserve.

"To possibly play at the next level, and I believe I can give that my best, or fall back on a great, great career in the Air Force," Robinette said about his options. "It's really the most win-win it can be. I'll have my degree and this opportunity as well, so it's worth all of the effort. But things that you believe are worth striving for are always worth the effort."

Robinette attends classes each morning at the academy. Afterward, he drives to train with other draft candidates, a diverse mix of Power 5 conference players and others from smaller programs that includes Stanford's Christian McCaffrey. After his workout, Robinette returns to the academy to finish out his school day.

"When I get back, it's all homework, try to get something to eat and try to go to bed at a decent time," Robinette said. "I was doing homework on the trips to the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, too. After I'd watch the film from practice, interviews with the scouts. I'd do my homework. Kind of a cadet day over in Tampa and Mobile, too."

Robinette is a big-bodied wideout who averaged a double-take worthy 27.4 yards per catch last season and 24.7 in 2015 as the deep-ball option in Air Force's run-heavy-option attack.

In many ways, his on-field profile is much the same as Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas' was when Thomas entered the draft out of Georgia Tech's option attack. Like Thomas in 2010, Robinette enters the draft with a limited experience in route running and press coverage, given that most of the defenses he faced were more concerned about Air Force's run game at the point of attack.

"But I'm working on those things, and I think I fared pretty well at the all-star games," Robinette said. "I believe those are things I can learn and put in the work."

That makes Robinette a safe bet in terms of work ethic. Former Broncos coach John Fox, whose father was a Navy SEAL, routinely said players from the service academies were worth plenty of patience because "they have been trained by the best in the world, and you know they have commitment, are leaders and work to make the group better and work to make sure everybody succeeds. As a coach, in our business you're always going to try to develop that for your team."

Garland was a four-year project for the Broncos before he played in a regular-season game. The Broncos waited and kept Garland on "reserve-military" during his two-year active duty commitment. He was then on the team's practice squad for two more seasons.

After first attending the team's training camp in 2010, Garland played in a regular-season game in 2014.

"I know [Garland's] story, of course," said Robinette, an Ohio native who dreamed as a teenager of being an Ohio State basketball player. "As players from the academies, we can show we do some pretty badass stuff, but we can also compete in that athletic arena, too. And if I wasn't doing this, I'd probably regret it looking back. I just don't think you should leave any doors unopened in life. I just couldn't see myself not trying this."