Weston Steelhammer, other Air Force grads won't be in NFL training camps
By BRENT BRIGGEMAN | The Gazette (Tribune News Service) | Published: July 22, 2017
Weston Steelhammer says he is “absolutely” keeping a door open to a football career in the future.
But for now, the All-American safety is preparing to report for active duty as a second lieutenant at Joint Base San Antonio.
That seems to be the case for all of Air Force’s Class of 2017, a group that until a few months ago was operating under the assumption that it could explore professional sports this year. They instead are dispersing around the country to begin serving.
Steelhammer (Eagles), Sam Byers (Falcons), Jacob Onyechi (Packers, Saints), Jalen Robinette (Bills, Patriots) and Ryan Watson (Cardinals) each attended rookie minicamps with NFL teams, but it seems none will be attending training camps as they open in the coming weeks.
An Air Force spokesman couldn’t say with certainty that no recent grads will be in camp, but he hadn’t heard of any who are. The same was the case with a football assistant, who said in a message, “I think they will all miss out this year.”
The two players who responded to queries from The Gazette said they will be reporting to bases, but not NFL camps.
“I have not been contacted further for this year’s training camp and will not be going,” Byers said.
Steelhammer also said he is not, but will be following from afar the progress of the Falcons as they enter a season with 10 new starters on defense but with key playmakers like quarterback Arion Worthman and tailback Tim McVey returning on offense. Practice for Air Force begins Aug. 4.
“Excited to see some new guys step up and do great things,” Steelhammer said.
The Department of Defense’s policy would have allowed these players to apply to serve their time on reserve status to pursue professional sports, but that rule was changed just before the NFL draft in April and reverted to the previous requirement of two years on active duty before such a request could be made.
This policy will soon end the baseball season of recent graduate Griffin Jax, who has posted a 2.59 ERA over four minor league starts this season, including a 2.29 mark in 19 2/3 innings with Single-A Cedar Rapids in the Minnesota Twins system.
This was the policy in place when Falcon grads Ben Garland, Bryce Fisher and Steve Russ eventually launched NFL careers after serving in the Air Force. So, when Steelhammer says he is absolutely keeping that door open in the future, he means it. But for now, that door appears to be closed.
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