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Air Force freshmen arrive for basic training prepared, but expecting unexpected

June 30, 2016 Updated: June 30, 2016 at 6:32 pm
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photo - Members of the cadet cadre greet freshman cadets during Inprocessing Day at the United States Air Force Academy on Thursday, June 30, 2016. Photo by Ryan Jones, The Gazette.
Members of the cadet cadre greet freshman cadets during Inprocessing Day at the United States Air Force Academy on Thursday, June 30, 2016. Photo by Ryan Jones, The Gazette. 

Caleb Morris sets a new mold when it comes to ideal Air Force basketball recruits.

He's from a military family, raised in San Diego where his father, Jeff, served in the Marine Corps. He attended the military-focused Army-Navy High School before logging a year at the Air Force prep school. He's a 6-foot-4 accurate shooter who led the prep school in scoring as it went 25-6 last year.

His high school coach actually played at Air Force under Bob Spear.

But even Morris, as prepared as anyone could possibly be, felt dread as the bus prepared to take him away to basic training Thursday.

"For me, it's the haircut," said Morris, identifying the aspect of the day that troubled him most. "I like my hair. ... But other than that, you get butterflies just because you know what you're getting into."

Morris and everyone else had no choice but to lose their hair, their communication with the outside world and six weeks of their life as they were whisked away. Included in the new class were 10 of Morris' future teammates on the men's basketball team, 15 baseball players and an undisclosed number of football players.

The athletes and other basic-cadets came with varying levels of preparedness for what awaits. Most said they had watched YouTube videos, read interviews and sought advice.

"Guys I talked to told me not to laugh and to try and blend in," LeSean Brown said. "That's what I'm going to try to do."

Brown, the all-time leading high school scorer in San Antonio history, rivals Morris in his pedigree. Both of his parents served careers in the Army and his sister is at West Point.

Trey Smith, a coach's son, didn't have military resources at home to draw from, but he's been working with a personal trainer and focusing on pushups, pullups and other things he'll be asked to do with regularity.

Jonathan DeWayne, a 6-8 forward from Jacksonville, Fla., came up several days early to run at altitude and acclimate.

No acclimation was needed for 6-4, 265-pound defensive lineman Matt Gaiter, a Littleton native who attended Chatfield. He hosted teammates from last year at the prep school at his home Wednesday night before arriving for the next chapter early Thursday.

"I'm really not too nervous," Gaiter said. "I'm just looking forward to getting through it and getting it done with."

Most of the athletes put a focus on eating over their final days of freedom. Gaiter feasted on crab legs, Brown had some homemade baked chicken before leaving San Antonio. DeWayne savored some fried chicken and macaroni. Morris visited his favorite San Diego stop, the Yellow Deli, where he ordered his usual - two Chipotle chicken sandwiches with provolone cheese on a Kaiser roll.

"That's my go-to," he said. "Every time."

Smith grew fond of Rudy's Bar-B-Q on a recruiting visit, so that was his first stop when arriving Tuesday.

"That was the one thing we had to do when we got here, before I got on the bus," Smith said. "That was the one meal I just had to have."

Going without favorite foods has been a tradition as long as basic training has existed, but the new generation also has to adjust to turning over their phones for six weeks.

Most didn't seem concerned about it.

"It might be kind of a relaxer," Brown said. "At the end of the six weeks it will be either that I can't wait to get it back or I won't need it as much as I did before."

Air Force coaches who have logged time elsewhere reminisced about what athletes at other schools would have been doing on a summer day like this. They knew it was nothing like what awaited these future Falcon athletes. And that's what service academies want - to test their incoming freshmen in ways they've never imagined, no matter how much preparation they might have.

"You've just got to really find your motivation to keep pushing through it," said Morris, minutes before losing his hair. "There's going to be a lot of tedious stuff you don't want to do, but you've got to get through it because it's for a bigger goal."

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