Falcon football launches again

  • Published
  • By John Van Winkle
  • Air Force Academy Public Affairs
New faces in new places marked the start of Falcon football season as practices got underway Aug. 3.

With only three returning starters on offense and two on defense, the battle for starting jobs is underway and will introduce Falcon fans to a lot of new names and changes this season.

With that comes some uncertainty in the fans' minds of who is starting where, but the coaches are well at home with that competition and the eternal question of selecting new starters that comes with each new season.

"Sometimes that's what makes for a really, really good August. The key is, as we go further along, on the field is where that ends up getting separated," said Falcons head football coach Troy Calhoun.

Senior Wes Cobb is one of the more well-known Falcons switching roles. He gained 425 yards on 100 rushes at fullback last season, and makes the switch to tailback this year. Sharing the backfield with him at fullback is fellow firstie Mike DeWitt, who finished last season with 117 carries for 567 yards and a team-high 12 rushing touchdowns.

Complementing the Cobb-DeWitt rushing attack at tailback are seniors Cody Getz and Scott Day, along with sophomore Jon Lee. Getz has seen the most playing time of the trio, racking up a decent level of rushing and return yards last year.

The quarterback race boils down to returning senior Connor Dietz, and sophomores Mitch Griebel and Kale Pearson. Dietz's experience makes him the front-runner going into fall practices. He's the only current quarterback with extensive playing time, subbing for Tim Jefferson in nine games last year and demonstrating a fearless approach to rushing, carrying the ball 38 times for 261 yards.

The one question that lingers for Dietz is a his passing ability. He only threw 9 of 15 for 128 yards in spot duty last year. But the Falcons' brand of triple-option offense has typically featured a run-pass ratio of six to eight runs for every throw in previous years, before now-graduated quarterback Tim Jefferson got to air the ball out more in 2010 and 2011. Even with an increased passing attack, runs still accounted for almost 85 percent of the Falcons' offensive plays last season. So no matter who winds up at quarterback for the Falcons on Sept. 1, don't look for the Falcons to pass so much that it creates a hazard to low-flying aircraft.

Regardless of what plays the Falcons' brain trust calls, the players are ready to execute.
"I'll do whatever it takes to win," Dietz said. "That's my mentality every single game. it doesn't matter to me if I have the worst game of my life, if we have a win. That's the cold truth. I think that's the great thing about this team."

"We are an option offense and we have a lot of options," he added. "I don't have to carry the ball. We got great stellar fullbacks, running backs, X and Z-receivers. We got a lot of great guys who can touch the ball and make plays at any given time."

"I've been in this program for four years, so I know it pretty well. I've worked on my passing ever since I got here," he added. "Every day, we're down here throwing - me, the receivers, the backs. We're all down here working on our timing and our routes."

Protecting and plowing a path for Dietz and the backs will be an offensive line led on the right side by returning senior starters Jason Kons at left tackle Jason Kons and Jordan Eason at left guard. Kons and Eason will be joined by a host of experienced key reserves from last season, so the offensive line is not a position of concern going into fall practices.

Special teams also remains one of the strong points going into the 2012, season, returning starting placekicker Patrick Herrington and punter David Baska.

Defensively, familiar faces will be few and far between. Linebacker Alex Means and defensive back Brian Lindsay are seniors and the only returning starters. Joining them are a number of key returning lettermen, including defensive lineman Nick Fitzgerald and defensive back Chris Miller. Joining Miller and Lindsay in the defensive backfield are several lettermen who played offense and special teams last year: running back Anthony LaCoste and punter David Baska. Quarterback Tucker Tipton also tested the waters at cornerback for the first few days of practice, but moved back to the offensive side of the ball on Wednesday.

"LaCoste has been really, really effective as a special teams player," said Calhoun. "Because of that, we think he's got to be on the field more. For him, safety can be a good position, although there's an awful lot that has to happen there. He needs his crash course at safety to end in a hurry so he's able to respond and play."

Baska is another player joining the defensive backfield, adding cornerback to his special teams roles. He started the entire 2011 season at punter and holding for kickoffs, and showed his athleticism during fake kicks last year, gaining 57 yards rushing and one touchdown. This year, coaches are looking for him to contribute at cornerback.

"He has very good feet, very good acceleration and he's been dying to get involved in a variety of ways. So here's an opportunity, but he's got to be the one to make the plays," said Calhoun. "We're going to see what the guy can do at corner. He was an excellent athlete in high school and for him it's a chance to be on the field more frequently, rather than six or seven times a game punting and holding."

The freshman class will also start to make their presence felt this week, as it usually takes a few practices for the incoming freshmen to begin contributing, said Calhoun.
There will also be new faces in the conference this year and next. With the start of the 2012-2013 academic year on July 1, the latest round of college football conference rotations officially took place. TCU departed the Mountain West, while Fresno State and the University of Nevada-Reno joined the conference as full members and the University of Hawai'i became a football-only member of the Mountain West.

Next year, the Mountain West will lose San Diego State and Boise State,and gain San Jose State and Utah State as full members, effective July 1, 2013.

"We are pleased to announce the addition of San José State University and Utah State University to the ranks of the Mountain West," said Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson. "As we have developed the strategy for the future of the Conference, the long-standing rivalries with our current members and the fit within our geographic footprint made these two institutions the optimal choices to strengthen our membership and position ourselves for the next steps."