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Air Force football closes the book on last season as spring practice begins

February 19, 2014 Updated: February 19, 2014 at 10:15 pm
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photo - Air Force quarterback Nate Romine (right) hands off to running back Vegas Johnson on Wednesday, February 19, 2014. Wednesday was the first day of football practice for the Falcon football team at the Air Force Academy. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett)
Air Force quarterback Nate Romine (right) hands off to running back Vegas Johnson on Wednesday, February 19, 2014. Wednesday was the first day of football practice for the Falcon football team at the Air Force Academy. (The Gazette/Jerilee Bennett) 

Events that occurred between Aug. 31 and Nov. 30 were a taboo subject as Air Force began spring football practice on Wednesday.

"It's 2014," safety Christian Spears said. "We don't have much to say about last year."

The Falcons' 2-10 season was one in which almost all that can go wrong, did go wrong. A young roster was slow to develop, the team cycled through four quarterbacks and injuries plagued nearly every position group.

The season ended with a blowout loss to Colorado State on a Saturday. That following Monday saw the beginning of offseason weightlifting sessions. Since then the players bonded together to create a leadership board to enhance accountability from within, two veteran assistant coaches were hired and Troy Calhoun's staff was reorganized with fewer titles and more guys in positions in which they are comfortable.

On Wednesday, the focus shifted back to the actual football field.

"It was great to be back out," Calhoun said. "Just to practice and move forward."

Some reminders of last season remained, mostly in the large number of injured players. Quarterback Kale Pearson took limited repetitions as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered in the first game, but others like defensive linemen Joseph Champagne and Robert Green, safety Dexter Walker and linebacker Kristov George continued to be sidelined with their knee injuries. Others not present included linebacker Jake Riley, who remains at the academy but left the team for medical reasons after a history of concussions, and linebacker Reggie Barnes, who is limited to academics only right now.

Those who did practice enjoyed a briskly paced first day - thanks to a large number of returning players - and a renewed energy and the longest layoff before the start of spring practice in recent memory as the program saw its six-year run of bowl appearances snapped.

"There was a little different life out there today," offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen said. "Guys that last year were doing what they were supposed to because they were trying to figure it out, now they're playing with a little more passion and leadership and all of the sudden it's a different atmosphere. There's a different chemistry and feel to it."

Several players expressed excitement over an upcoming spring game, the first in several years for the program. That game provides a short-term goal to work toward during this 15-practice session. But the primary source of motivation for this group is that lingering disappointment. They didn't want to talk about it, but they sure were thinking about it.

"What happened last year, there's no way that's happening again," linebacker Joey Nichol said. "That's what's on everybody's mind."

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