Spencer Proctor seemed doomed to the life of a backup as he entered his junior season buried behind a sophomore on the depth chart.
Rather than accept this, the Air Force linebacker changed it.
Proctor had one of the best spring practice sessions on the team and carried that into the fall, where he has leapt past Connor Healy and into the middle spot on the defense next to Joey Nichol.
"It was just a battle between us and I guess the coaches feel like they've made the right decision," said the junior from Clarksville, Tenn.
Proctor's jump into the lineup shows the Air Force staff truly meant it when it said all positions were up for the taking. Healy, a sophomore from Castle Rock, had played significant time as a freshman and took all the first-team snaps through the spring and over the first eight or nine practices of the fall. But Proctor didn't stop challenging.
"I think Spencer played well in the spring, and he's come back in the fall and even gone to a different chord," coach Troy Calhoun said. "What's been neat to see is just how rapidly he can see a guard pull, knowing what the strength of a formation is to know if he needs to make a call with our guys up front. He's a guy who has played very well over these first two weeks."
At 6-foot-2, 207 (though that's probably closer to 215), Proctor is lighter but 2 inches taller than the 227-pound Healy, who played at Mullen.
Despite facing the prospect of spending his final two years in a backup role and contributing in nickel packages, Proctor helped separate himself by allowing himself to play confident and loose. This allowed him to excel in the blitz game and illustrate his quickness.
"He plays with a lot of energy, a lot of passion and physicality, and I think players are really starting to feed off that," said linebackers coach Steve Russ, who has NFL experience at the position.
With the first game nearly two weeks away, Proctor knows the competition for a starting spot is not over - nor will it end at any point in the season.
"Competition made me better," Proctor said. "That's it. I just come out every day and say 'I've got a job to do and this guy's going to make me better.' That's what I do."
Healy was not made available to the media, per the team's policy that allows only juniors and seniors to speak before the week of the first game.