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Air Force offensive linemen continue to add size despite academy's challenges

March 18, 2017 Updated: March 18, 2017 at 6:04 pm
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FILE - In this Oct. 24, 2015, file photo, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun walks along the sideline during the team's NCAA college football game against Fresno State at Air Force Academy, Colo. Air Force faces New Mexico on Saturday in Dallas. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Earlier this week James Rast jumped into a pool from a 10-meter platform in full military dress - minus the boots - and spent 30 minutes treading water.

The 285-pound tackle then dried off, put on his football uniform and headed to the practice field.

If there's any confusion about why Air Force generally features undersized players, re-read those two sentences.

"Yeah, it's hard to keep the weight on," Rast said.

Center Alex Norton, who also weighs in at 285, is spending his spring semester in Unarmed Combatives, which is essentially a wrestling class that pits him regularly against backup lineman R.J. Slater. They go at it every other day and will for the full 16 sessions of the class.

Despite these challenges, and the personal fitness tests along the way that include 600-meter and 1.5-mile runs, Air Force is sporting an offensive line this spring that weighs an average of 278 pounds. That's an increase of 23 pounds per spot from the group averaging 255 that started the Armed Forces Bowl for Air Force in 2012, after which coach Troy Calhoun declared the Falcons had a "mass problem."

"Since I got brought in they've been trying to put on size," Rast said. "You can see in the recruiting class this year they brought in a lot of huge kids for Air Force. They're definitely trying to move in that direction.

"Definitely everybody is more in the 265-290 range now."

New offensive line coach Steed Lobotzke, a former Air Force lineman, understands the challenges of putting on weight at the academy and knows that as he seeks recruits he can't necessarily eye large frames the way he might have at places like Ohio and Wake Forest.

"Other places you might say, 'He's long, he'll be big someday,'" Lobotzke said. "Well, you can't quite make that statement here as easily.

"You like them to look a little more ready-made, knowing they're going to dip a little bit in basic training and freshman year."

Lobotzke, however, doesn't want to commit to a particular body type that the Falcons will recruit on the offensive line. He said there will be some weighing 265 pounds and others at 300 pounds that will catch the staff's eye when all factors are considered.

"Recruiting isn't an exact science," Lobotzke said. "You don't want to get pigeonholed into a formula and then you don't have the freedom to go, 'Gosh, there's something I like about that guy's tape. I know he's only 265 pounds but he flies off the ball and he's got great technique. He's got it all. I think we should go on him.' I just want to leave some room to offer guys you fall in love with."

Calhoun understands the Falcons, even as they continue to increase size up front, are unlikely to ever consistently match the mass of their opponents. That's part of why he was so pleased to have an experienced offensive line coach like Lobotzke waiting to fill that spot when it opened this offseason.

"You better be a great teacher and a great coach," Calhoun said. "You better be demanding. You better be super at the development part, too, and really being able to help kids and help guys grow from a good high school player into a really good college football player."

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