Photo: Jalen Robinette
Attention Biletnikoff Award committee members: It’s not too late to add Air Force senior wide receiver Jalen Robinette to your watch list for the nation’s best wide receiver.
Naturally, most preseason nominees for the award that is presented to the nation’s top college wide receiver start with names plucked from brand name schools and teams known for tossing the ball around. Maybe for that reason Robinette has been overlooked while playing in a triple-option offense, but the reality is the days when the academies don’t have a legitimate big-play receiver are an era gone by.
My hunch is Fred Biletnikoff, the Florida State and Oakland Raiders great that is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, would be impressed by Robinette’s production that also has drawn the interest of NFL scouts.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder from Bexley, Ohio, leads the nation in yards per catch at 26.9. “Jalen Robinette, Air Force” is easy to find at the top of the ncaa.com list.
He also became Air Force’s career leader in reception yards when he caught three balls for 104 yards in last week’s 31-12 win at Army. He also had a 100-yard receiving game against Navy that gave the Falcons a sweep of their rival academies to win the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy.
“All that stuff is outside noise to me,” Robinette told Today’s U. “Awards don’t help the team with our performance. Then again, it would be a treat to be associated with such a great award. But when it comes to awards, I don’t pay much attention. Week in and week out, our goal is to go 1-0.”
Robinette isn’t a flash in the pan. He first established himself as a sophomore when he caught 43 balls for 806 yards and four touchdowns with 18.7 yards per catch. As a junior he grabbed 26 for 641 yards for five TDs and 24.7 yards per reception. His 2015 season included a career best of seven catches for 210 yards to help beat Utah State that helped Air Force win the Mountain West Conference Mountain Division title.
Through nine games this season, he has 27 receptions for 726 yards and four touchdowns.
Robinette’s 45-yard catch in the Army game bumped him past the school career total of Ernie Jennings (1968-70). Robinette now has 2,410 to Jennings’ 2,392. He is second to Jennings in both career catches (112 to 148) and career TDs (16 to 28), but Jennings played in an era when Air Force threw the ball before Fisher DeBerry brought the triple-option and consistent winning to Colorado Springs.
The Army performance was Robinette’s fourth 100-yard game of the season after three straight against Navy (five catches, 163 yards, one touchdown, long of 75), Wyoming (3-101-1, 75) and New Mexico (7-182-1, 53).
The Biletnikoff Award preseason list has been updated throughout the season, but the Oct. 11 additions lacked Robinette following his games against Navy on Oct. 1 and Wyoming on Oct. 8; same with the updated Nov. 1 list was after New Mexico on Oct. 15; and Tuesday’s updated list was after the Nov. 5 Army game.
Two names that were added last week were Washington junior John Ross (44 catches, 742 yards, 14 TDs, long of 67) and Akron senior Jojo Natson (53-736-10, 46).
Although Robinette doesn’t have their catch and touchdown totals, he is on par with them in yards (726) and tops them in longest reception. He has two 75-yarders that better the longest of Ross and Natson.
The comparison is not to discredit Ross and Natson. They deserve their place on the list. It’s to spell out Robinette belongs among them and the other 76 nominees.
For added perspective, note the disparity in pass attempts. Washington’s quarterbacks have completed 159-of-234 passes and 2,416 yards and Akron’s QBs 194-of-345 for 2,735. Compare those totals to Robinette’s production, although Air Force (45-of-108, 1,206 yards) has completed only a third to a quarter of those schools’ pass attempts.
Robinette’s NFL body and production also has drawn the interest from pro scouts despite his five-year military commitment as an Air Force officer upon graduation.
“I try to keep my mind off (the NFL),” Robinette said. “That can wait. We still have games to play. Maybe in January when I return to school that’s something I can focus on and get back into training.”
However, Biletnikoff Award nominee or not, Robinette already has his name on an exclusive list for another type national honor. When Air Force won Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, the Falcons’ seniors earned invitations to a White House ceremony in the spring.
“Being able to get the trophy back shows you hard work pays off,” Robinette said. “It’s great feeling knowing all the hard work in the offseason paid off, and we played exceptional games against Navy and Army.”
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