LAS VEGAS - Coach Troy Calhoun offered high praise for three linebackers who are still cadets but no longer Air Force football players.
Reggie Barnes, Jared Jones and Steven Sumpter all remain in the coach's good graces, if not on his team.
"Each one of those guys are really, really high-caliber people," Calhoun said. "Those are each guys who are what you want in an officer candidate and a person. Just the right spirit and honesty; which I think that is why we are at the Air Force Academy."
Calhoun said Barnes, who started 11 games at outside linebacker in 2013, needed to step away from football to follow through with his intention to become a doctor.
"Where Reggie was academically with his cumulative GPA, he really had to make a pretty good leap," Calhoun said. "He thought in order to do that that he was going to have to concentrate solely on academics."
Jones had fought back from a shoulder injury suffered against Michigan in 2012 to regain a starting spot late in 2013, but it was his disclosure of multiple unreported concussions that led the coaches to take action.
"Health-wise, as we came down the stretch in the spring; he might not have liked it a whole lot but he'll realize down the road why we had to do that," Calhoun said.
"He's a person. We want him to have a chance to be commissioned in the Air Force, too."
As for Sumpter, a backup who played sparingly, Calhoun said dropping football "just provides a more balanced path for him to graduate from the academy in 10 months."
Another linebacker, sophomore Justin Alabi, left the program on his own in June.
Jordan Pierce was also left off the roster that was revealed last week despite starting at linebacker for the final three games last year. Pierce remains on the team, just not on the first released roster.
"I sat down with him," Calhoun said. "He's in Powered Flight right now. He's got to complete that program and complete it well. I haven't had any indication that he won't."
Calhoun said senior defensive lineman Joseph Champaign, who has undergone several knee surgeries, will also no longer play football but remains at the academy.
Junior linebacker Connor Healy, one of two Falcons player representatives at Mountain West media days in Las Vegas, said he had no concerns about the position.
"I think we are still deep at the linebacker position," Healy said. "Those four guys all could have contributed and helped the team. Obviously for different reasons like injuries and grades that didn't work out, but we still have a lot of really talented guys and a lot of depth. We'll be just fine at the linebacker spot."