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Air Force soph Nolan Eriksen heads home to Michigan hoping to contribute at tailback

September 8, 2017 Updated: September 8, 2017 at 4:02 pm
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Nolan Eriksen will have the rarest of opportunities next week at Michigan.

The dream of many young athletes is to grow up to play for the team you support. Then only second behind that would be an opportunity to take down the team you long rooted against.

That’s what awaits the Air Force sophomore.

“I grew up a Michigan State fan,” said Eriksen, a tailback who grew up just northwest of Detroit. “All my friends are Michigan fans.”

Just one month ago, the prospect of Eriksen having any say in Air Force’s performance next week in Michigan seemed remote. But he spent August separating himself among a crowd of classmates that include Jaylen Burgess, Christian Mallard and Joseph Saucier. Then came an injury to senior Benton Washington. Now, Eriksen will enter the game at the Big House in a close race for the No. 2 spot with junior Malik Miller and as the Falcons tailback with the most career rushing yards after starter Tim McVey.

“I’m very excited,” Eriksen said after making his debut by running for 42 yards and a touchdown against VMI in last week’s season opener. “It’s just awesome to be able to live out your dream and see the fruits of all your labor.”

Eriksen’s first carry went for 11 yards. His second netted 12. This fourth went for a 3-yard touchdown.

Four of his first five carries went for either 10 or more yards or ended in the end zone.

“He had a good number of snaps. Certainly throughout August in addition to this past weekend,” coach Troy Calhoun said. “He has good speed. Our evaluation for him in high school was he needed to gain strength, and he’s made some progress that way. He still has some direction he can go in that regard. But he does have really good movement. If you were to pull up his film from high school … it’s pretty good.

“I think he’s made a good transition, and yet his best days are here over the next two and a half years.”

The easy parallel to draw is to McVey, who at a speedy 5-foot-9, 190 pounds brings identical size to Eriksen. McVey was also buried on the depth chart entering his sophomore year, but progressed throughout the season and put together a breakout campaign over the final month.

They are both from the upper Midwest (McVey coming from Cleveland). Both put up prolific rushing careers in high school. And, like Eriksen, McVey has a history of rooting against Michigan – doing so in person several times when his older brother Scott played linebacker at Ohio State.

But all of that is getting ahead of things. McVey has 1,247 rushing yards and 27 career touchdowns. Eriksen sits at 42 yards and one touchdown. Still, it has to start somewhere, and Eriksen’s start has come earlier than expected.

Now, he's ready for more with friends and family on hand to see it -- some likely wearing their Wolverines garb under an Air Force shirt.

“Once you shake off the nerves of the first college game, it becomes easier,” Eriksen said. “You start seeing holes easier, knowing the plays better and getting more comfortable on the field.”

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