Lakota Wills is proud of his climb within the Air Force defense, and with good reason.
The freshman outside linebacker emerged in camp as a key piece of depth at an otherwise thin position. By Week 2 he had earned his first start. Last week he grabbed his first interception against UNLV. On Friday, he made a team-high nine tackles.
“It’s been pretty awesome,” he said. “Just being a part of this team is something special.”
But as much satisfaction as Wills has found in his football growth, he’s found even more in his adjustments to the academy away from the field.
His first round of midterms came and went in mid-October without incident.
“The academy stuff is going a lot better than I thought it would,” Wills said. “The prep school helped a lot. A lot. I’m not on academic probation, I’m getting my grades good. I’m really thankful for the prep school. And my coaches helping me and my teammates helping me and my teachers and squad.”
Coach Troy Calhoun added another layer of support that warranted a mention.
“That’s a credit to each of his parents,” Calhoun said.
The intense adjustment period to the academic and military requirements has long been a factor in why the Falcons play so few freshman. Six weeks are spent in basic training in the summer before a cadet’s freshman year, and there’s little chance to fully recover from the physical and mental drain. But the 6-foot-3, 220-pound native of Richmond, Wash., is proving to be the rare exception in not only earning a spot, but in becoming an indispensable part of the team.
“He’s contributed a bunch of snaps and, quite frankly, probably would have contributed more except that he had a little break in his hand after the first game,” Calhoun said. “The plan was to expose him in the first game, play him if we could, and bring him along thereafter. That set him back a couple of weeks.
“He’s learning. He’s growing as he’s moving along here.”
Calhoun simply nodded when agreement when asked about the importance of Wills manning the bandit linebacker spot. That position was initially earmarked for junior R.J. Jackson, who went down with an injury in spring ball. Then it went to senior Matt Evans, who could miss the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. Wills had to accelerate his development to plug the hole.
“It’s always tough learning new plays and learning new things and adjusting to that,” he said. “It’s been difficult like anything else at the Air Force Academy. You’ve just got to buckle down and get through it.”
While Wills is pleased with his start, he knows better than to find himself settling into his role.
“I can’t get comfortable because when you get comfortable you get complacent,” he said. “I’m never comfortable. I’m always doing new things, trying to get the new things down.”