Tailback Tim McVey carried a ball with him to football meetings this past week as part of the Air Force offense’s focus on ball security.
That’s been a major issue the Falcons, who have fumbled 21 times, losing nine. Over the past three years they had averaged 22 fumbles with 11 lost, but that was over one 14- and two 13-game seasons. The team has played just seven games this season.
“It shouldn’t be a problem, but when it is we need to fix it and nip in the bud,” McVey said.
Some of the fumbles have resulted from plays that can’t be practiced or simulated by carrying a ball around the halls of the athletic facility or even on the practice field. But it’s those plays the Falcons have discussed at length.
For example, slot receiver Ronald Cleveland has lost the ball twice over the past two games on tackles in which he has gone airborne. They were both crushing hits, but the Falcons still see the results as unacceptable.
“(Receivers) coach (Taylor) Stubblefield says to be mindful when your body’s in different positions that you’re not used to being in because that’s when the ball will usually come out,” Cleveland said. “It’s kind of hard just in the moment. I try to put two hands on it, but it just got away from me.”
Cleveland has been fortunate, as one of those fumbles went out of bounds and the other was recovered by teammate Nolan Eriksen.
Coach Troy Calhoun found a military connection to the need to adjust to those kinds of situations.
“There’s a chance when you fly that you could be airborne too, and you’ve got to still be able to hold the stick,” he said. “There are times when the air is not only smooth. The plane bounces a little bit and you’ve got to stay steady. But that’s one of the beautiful parts of sports. You learn some lessons.”
The Falcons certainly take this issue seriously. McVey’s most prolific home game, by a wide margin, came last year when he scored four touchdowns and ran for 184 yards in a 49-46 victory over Colorado State.
With the Rams approaching again, McVey looked back not on those four touchdowns but on a ball that squirted out of his hands in the best possible way - with a teammate recovering it for a touchdown.
Still, it burned.
“That’s what sticks out in my mind,” McVey said, “more my mistakes than accolades.”