Updated: August 5, 2014 at 11:44 am
The Air Force Academy hasn't shied away from revelations in a Gazette article of past misconduct among cadets, particularly those on the football team.
In a meeting of intercollegiate cadet-athletes Sunday night, superintendent Gen. Michelle Johnson discussed the investigative project published that morning and asked athletes to read it.
Athletes and coaches were also left free to discuss the topic Monday morning after football practice - no gag order was put in place and no restrictions were placed on media.
"If you just turned a blind eye to it, that'd be stupid," football center Michael Husar said. "You've got to learn from the past. We're just trying to move forward from it. We're trying to kibosh that, make sure nobody does anything like that moving forward."
The allegations, mostly stemming from activities in December 2011, might be ancient history to younger players who never knew most of the individuals involved. But current seniors were part of that team, and Husar, who was granted a ninth semester after an injury as a junior impeded his progression, was a sophomore at the time and came to Air Force in the same class as Jamil Cooks.
Those seniors, however, say nothing noticeable has changed in their time at the academy to prevent the behavior exhibited by several associated with that 2011 team. But they say the lack of change doesn't reflect an unwillingness to respond to problems, but because the message has always been stern and consistent.
"Coach Calhoun is always on us about just being a leader of character, that's what we're trained and taught to do at the Air Force Academy," senior safety Christian Spears said. "That's been the motto since it opened in the '50s and it hasn't changed since then. There will be people that make those decisions, and we're all under the spotlight, but I wouldn't say anything has changed drastically."
That's not to say some strides haven't been made. A 24-player leadership council was formed by coach Troy Calhoun after last season, with all position groups and classes represented in an effort to reach everyone and prevent splintering and cliques that can lead to issues.
"Those open channels of communication are great," Husar said. "If someone's thinking about doing something stupid, you've got 10 guys behind him being like, 'Hey, you're part of the Falcon football team. We're not going to let you do something stupid like that.' We're definitely looking out for not only the football players, but with the squadrons up on the hill just to help everyone out, have everyone's backs. Everyone make mistakes once in a while, but if you have people in the corner trying to help you out along the way, then hopefully those mistakes won't be detrimental to your Air Force career."
The Gazette article seems to have started a conversation among cadet-athletes about the decision-making process. On Monday Spears and few others spoke with defensive coordinator Steve Russ about his time in the NFL. Russ said several players would make a pact not to drink during the season, and Spears and other seniors immediately decided to mimic that with similar agreements.
"We don't want to go out and do things during the season that will hurt the team," Spears said. "And even if you're not doing the bad thing or you're not a bad person, if you're around that crowd then accidents can happen. So just during the season, why not have our focus be purely on football and spending time as teammates - maybe going to a movie or going to bowl or something, that wouldn't hurt the season. We actually had a conversation about that today."
Calhoun did not discuss details of the article, saying he had not read it (he later said he had not read it in its entirety, but was largely aware of the contents).
Calhoun said he fully supports the internal investigation ordered by Gen. Johnson. When asked what he can do to better project problem cadets before they arrive, he seemed to acknowledge that the vetting process won't catch everyone.
"What you can do though is be very emphatic and livid that there are degrees and expectations that you're going to face here at the academy," Calhoun said. "It's pretty transparent of what that is. If there's a struggle, we're going to get you out of here - which I love. I love it."
The players never took an opportunity to deflect blame to others, taking responsibility for past issues as a unit.
"We know we're a part of it just being on the same team," Spears said. "But we're trying to move forward, and our focus is on August 30 right now. Naysayers and outsiders will say what they want, but we just have to make sure we keep good relationships with our team and that's what we have right now. That's all we're worried about."