August 5, 2014 Updated: August 5, 2014 at 8:36 pm
Weston Steelhammer feels his sacrifice paying off on a daily basis.
The Air Force sophomore free safety, battling Jamal Byrd for a starting spot, helped himself earn that position by giving up baseball last year.
To him, that was a big deal. He was recruited more heavily in baseball than football out of high school, with an offer from Alabama. He chose Air Force with the impression that he might be able to play both, but understanding that football would be the top priority.
"I had a hard time picking out of the two in high school for sure," Steelhammer said. "I figured I was going to have to make a decision coming here. My dad, stepdad, stepbrothers all played football, so I guess it kind of runs in the family. I'll definitely be happy if I can string out both of them over these next few years."
Steelhammer worked out with the baseball team as a catcher in the winter but didn't play during the season. He didn't offer specifics as to why he couldn't play both, but he said he prayed about it and decided football was the right fit.
"It was pretty crucial. I put on some weight, got to know the playbook inside and out and that's where we had the competition for all these spots," Steelhammer said. "It was big time."
Steelhammer made enough of an impression as a direct-enter freshman to play in eight games, making seven tackles. But he has progressed in the time since.
"He is a little stronger," coach Troy Calhoun said. "He's got good field awareness. I think probably what really helped him was focusing solely on football during the spring. I think it was probably the first time in his life that he's done that. Because of it you can see that he's made really good improvement.
"I think it's important the first spring you're able to have a full spring."
At 6-foot-2, Steelhammer brings height to the position that could come in handy on jump balls or wrestling the ball away from receivers. The soft hands that have made him a standout shortstop and catcher won't hurt, either.
He's also exactly what the academy seeks in terms of his off-field résumé. He was a Louisiana Wendy's Heisman finalist, a National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame scholar-athlete and even traveled to New York this past December to be honored during the American Football Coaches Association convention.
The natural football talent Steelhammer possessed was immediately clear to Christian Spears, who figures to start at the safety position opposite Steelhammer.
"He has the best break I've ever seen in my life, and I've been playing football for a long time," Spears said. "The way he breaks on the football when it's in the air is amazing.
"The first time I saw him get an interception, and to see where he was on the field when the ball was thrown and where he got it, it was something that caught my eye. For him to do that every time, it's crazy to think that someone has a break like that. I probably need to get into his ear to see how I could do that. I know he'll do great things."