December 'Notes from Knowlton'

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --

I hope this edition of our newsletter finds you and yours doing well. We have so much exciting news to share with you this month, starting with our football team. The Falcons are going "bowling" for the ninth time in the last 10 years. Air Force is taking on South Alabama in the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl Dec. 30 in Tucson, Ariz. We are thrilled with this bowl and the match-up.

 

The team will attend a western movie set, participate in stunts and watch a rodeo event. The team’s bowl swag includes Beats by Dre headphones, an inflatable couch, watch, backpack and other great items. The night before the game, there is a block party where our cheerleaders will perform along with the Cadet Drum and Bugle Corps.

On game day, there is a great tailgate party, sponsored by the bowl, that includes a food festival highlighted by a Gin Blossoms concert. We really had no idea how great this experiences was going to be for our cadet-athletes, coaches and staff, until we sent our advance team and saw how welcoming and gracious the first-class bowl folks have been. This will be an incredible experience.

We are truly excited to have the opportunity to play in such a military-friendly area. Davis-Monthan and Luke Air Force Bases are in the state, and we couldn’t be happier to have the chance to make this a home-away-from-home game for the Falcons. Our cadets will even get a chance to see an operational base, as the team will visit Davis-Monthan AFB while in Tucson.

If you are unable to make it to Tucson to watch the Falcons go for a 10th win this season, you will be able to watch the game live. There has been a bunch of misinformation about the game being televised. We’re thrilled to let you know the game will be broadcast on KXTU (The CW) in Colorado Springs and KWGN (The CW) in Denver. The Mountain West staff reached out to both stations and obtained some great information. KWGN is in the majority of the state of Colorado as well in the panhandle of Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming. The game will be televised world-wide on the American Sports Network and the Armed Forces Network. In addition, the multi-media platforms of Twitter and Campus Insiders will carry the game digitally.

While we’re talking football, I want to give a huge shout-out to senior football player Weston Steelhammer. He recently became the first Falcon football player to earn first-team all-conference honors for the third straight year. He leads all active college football players in career interceptions with 17, which ties a 30-year Academy record. He led the team in tackles the last two years and in interceptions three straight years. He has been named to a pair of All-American teams already with a few more still to be announced.  

Most importantly, Steelhammer was named a finalist for the Lott IMPACT (Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community, Tenacity) Trophy, which goes annually to the top defensive football player in the country and is named in honor of NFL Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott. Wes was invited to California for the ceremony Dec. 10-11, along with the other finalists. You talk about a who’s who in college athletics this season, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers, who won the award, Alabama’s Jonathan Allen and Southern Cal’s Adoree’ Jackson were the other finalists. Click here to see the story and view video and photos from Falcon Vision to get a sense of the outstanding notoriety Wes brought to the Academy, athletics and the football program.

We have some news to share with you if you have not seen it about long-time swimming coach Keith “Casey” Converse, who announced his retirement starting June 30, 2017. Converse is in his 29th season of coaching at the Academy. A 1976 US Olympian and NCAA Champion swimmer at the University of Alabama, Converse began his tenure in 1988 as the first civilian swim coach in Academy history. 

 We are so grateful for Casey’s tremendous service to the Academy over the last 29 years. His leadership, loyalty and vision for nearly three decades have been instrumental in our women winning two national titles, progressing to Division I status in the Mountain West, and providing our Air Force outstanding leaders of character as second lieutenants. Casey has left an incredible legacy here at the Academy and we wish him and his family all the best for continued success in his retirement. Please be sure to congratulate him on his amazing career when you see him! We are working the details of a reunion of former team members and will share more information when it becomes available.

We also have sad news to share about Capt. Carson Bird, a 2008 graduate and former football standout. Carson passed away recently after a long battle with a rare form of bone cancer. The Academy hosted a memorial service which served as a very powerful reminder that each day is a gift for us to live fully in support of one another. Every organization involved went above and beyond to show appreciation for an officer who made a huge impact in his very short time on earth.  Air Force athletics will continue to support Carson’s family in whatever ways we can as they move forward.

Lastly, our winter sports are off and running as well and there have been several highlights. The hockey team won the Pikes Peak Trophy for the third straight year with a convincing win at Colorado College, 6-3. The men’s basketball team is off to a 6-1 start at home and plays in-state rival Colorado Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. Come out and help us get a big crowd for this big rivalry. The women’s basketball team has already doubled its win total from last year and are continuing to show steady improvement in head coach Chris Gobrecht’s second year. Our track team is off to another great start and has already had several record-breaking performances. Zach Johnson has broken the Air Force record in the 60-meter run (6.73) and 300-meters (34.37), while Tyler Koss broke his own program record in the 500-meter dash (1:04.23). Shelly Spires took over sole possession of the Academy record in the high jump (5’11¼”). The men’s swimming team is off to a 6-0 start, including a big conference win over Wyoming. The women’s team completed one of its best conference weekend’s in school history, beating both Colorado State and New Mexico on the same day and setting numerous school records.

 

We are 6-5 overall against the other service academies in all sports competition.  Air Force is ranked 52nd overall out of the 74 teams that have received rankings. The Falcons have earned 49 total points. Navy is second among the service academies, ranking 53rd with 48 points. Army has not earned any points. Air Force is fourth among the four Mountain West schools ranked. New Mexico (32nd), Colorado State (43rd) and Boise State (48th) are the other MW teams ranked.

Corey and I want to wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season and best wishes for the New Year. We hope to see you at Air Force events in 2017. Happy Holidays!