Updated: February 6, 2014 at 6:26 pm
Air Force struggled to compete last fall, but it has sure held its own over the winter.
The Falcons football program earned commitments from a number of players who held offers from the usual recruiting sparring partners like Army, Navy and Rice; but also swayed players away from scholarships at Mountain West foes Fresno State, Nevada, New Mexico, San Jose State and Wyoming.
"It is a very capable group," coach Troy Calhoun said Wednesday. "Hands down this is the most kids we've ever had that had other opportunities, especially at the highest level."
This came after going 2-10 this past season with one of the nation's most porous defenses and then being short two coaches throughout the final stages of the wooing process. But Calhoun filled in to help with the shortage and, by not having practice for a bowl game in December, the Falcons were able to canvas the country like they hadn't over the past six years.
"We were absolutely relentless with the travel and more than anything else just handshake to handshake, just getting to know young men and their families," Calhoun said. "We took a pretty exact and pinpointed approach to who we really, really wanted."
"I thought we had tremendous balance in this class," Calhoun said. "At every position, we pretty much got the top guy that we wanted. And there were even some spots where we really got a second guy we wanted."
Air Force made no official recognition of the 59-member class because its rules preclude it from doing so and because the commitments made are not binding the way they are to other programs. The Gazette's list of recruits was pieced together from recruiting services like Scout.com and Rivals, social media and other contacts.
Calhoun could comment only in general terms about the class.
Falcons give committed players symbolic forms to sign at ceremonies, but these documents do not hold the athletes to anything. Roughly half of this class will spend a year at the Air Force prep school, where they remain recruitable to any program. Others are sometimes lost to a change of heart or the rigors of basic training or other academy-related difficulties. The numbers game requires the Falcons to cast a larger net than other programs - Colorado signed 22 players, for example, and CSU 19.
This year's class does not include overwhelming size, but contains plenty of large-framed athletes. Of the 30 commitments, 15 are listed at least 6-foot-4 and 13 are at least 250 pounds - led by 6-4, 280-pound Cole Hansen from Derby, Kan.
It is notable that the Falcons did not go after 300-pound Windsor lineman Trenton Noller - who chose Navy over Army but did not have an offer from the Falcons. Calhoun confirmed that the team chose not to pursue him.
The Falcons did land Jake LaCoste, the younger brother of senior tailback Anthony LaCoste. Jake LaCoste ran for 7,462 yards and 96 touchdowns in his prep career.
This class includes just one local player in Discovery Canyon's Alec Wirtjes, a prep quarterback who will likely settle in as a tight end.
A pair of multitalented quarterbacks - Zephaniah Miller of Pickerington, Ohio, and John Oliver of Woodstock, Ga. - highlight that position.
As usual, the class contains players who earned Scholar Athlete Awards, who served as class presidents and even at least one homecoming king. But that's the caliber of person Calhoun always targets. What made this class stand alone was that other schools were also in pursuit of some of the players, and Air Force landed them.
Keenan Curran flipped his commitment from San Jose State to Air Force late in the process and could play anything from quarterback to defensive back. Matt Jacques had committed to Fresno State before changing his mind.
The Falcons have a long road to recover from their first 10-loss season, but the tone at the academy Wednesday certainly suggested it found the players it wants for that journey.