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Air Force signing day in review: the stories behind this year's class

Staff reports Updated: February 2, 2011 at 12:00 am

These items, by Air Force beat reporter Frank Schwab, appeared on The Gazette's Air Force blog at gazetteafasports.freedomblogging.com throughout signing day, offering some behind-the-scenes looks at the incoming football recruiting class:

What will the Falcons do with all these quarterbacks?

Ask Anthony Wright or Asher Clark or Jonathan Warzeka – coming to Air Force as a quarterback doesn’t mean you’ll end up at quarterback for Air Force.

Unless Troy Calhoun gets very creative on offense and figures out a way to use a half dozen quarterbacks at once, some of the quarterbacks who committed to Air Force’s recruiting class are going to be moving to other positions. The quarterbacks who are known to have committed to Air Force in this year’s recruiting class are Jaleel Awini of Aurora, Colo., Dano Graves of Folsom, Calif., Colton Huntsman of Cypress, Texas, Kale Pearson of Tulsa, Okla., Kent Rollins of Snellville, Ga and Teddy Ruben of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Awini was one of the last to come aboard, and said he knew that many other quarterbacks were coming in with him, but that didn’t change his mind.

“I’m a competitor,” said Awini, the Gatorade Player of the Year winner in Colorado. “Anywhere you go there will be competition. I figured if I want to be the best, you have to beat out the best.”

All of the quarterbacks have great resumes. Most of them would have gotten more attention in recruiting had they been taller and bigger. For example, the undersized Graves accounted for a California record 85 touchdowns as a senior and was named MaxPreps.com’s national player of the year, but didn’t get many offers. He chose Air Force over Sacramento State.

“The knock on him is he’s a 5-9 guy,” said Kris Richardson, Graves’ high-school coach. “The bigger schools, I think, are scared off by that. I’ve seen a lot of 6-2, 6-3 quarterbacks from our area that can’t hold a candle to what Dano can do.”

Rollins’ offers were mostly from smaller schools in his area – West Georgia, Charleston Southern, Valdosta State – and his size (he’s generally listed at 6-0, 170 pounds) probably played a role. He said his coach told him that his size might keep bigger schools away.

“I told him ‘My mom is 5-7, my dad is 6-1, it’s not in my genes,’” Rollins said. “But it’s not that big of a deal now that I’m going to Air Force. I’m just blessed and grateful for the opportunity.”

Ruben, one of five finalists for the Ed Doherty Award, a prestigious Arizona high school football player of the year award, had the same issues. He put up ridiculous numbers, but was 5-8.

Some of the quarterbacks will have to find new positions, but they’re coming in with the mindset they can be the one to eventually replace four-year Air Force starter Tim Jefferson, who will be a senior next season. In fact, Awini said coaches told him he reminded them of a “little taller Tim Jefferson.”

“I felt, if Tim can do it I can too,” Awini said. “I think we’re similar. Just to be compared to a guy like Tim Jefferson makes you feel good.”

Pearson, who has played quarterback since he was small but filled in at receiver for his high school team before his senior year because they had an established stater at quarterback, said one of the reasons he wanted to go to Air Force was to play quarterback at the highest level.

“They said if I came in there and work hard, I have a chance to start,” Pearson said. “But a lot of kids have a chance if they work hard, too.”

Calhoun likes recruiting quarterbacks. He thinks they’re usually better athletes, natural leaders and have a great understanding of the game. Some, like Clark, Wright and Warzeka, make an impact at other positions. Pearson has the experience of being stuck behind a starter in high school and finding another position to get on the field, something some of the other quarterback recruits might have to get used to.

“That’s the thing about Kale – he’ll find a place to play,” said Kirk Fridrich, Pearson’s high-school coach. “They’ll find him a way to get him on the field.”

 

Air Force beats Oregon for a recruit

 

Oregon played in the Bowl Championship Series title game about a month ago. But Oregon doesn’t offer mechanical engineering as a major.

That’s a big reason the Falcons landed Tyrone Sauls, a highly sought after running back/linebacker from El Cajon (Calif.) Christian High School, out from the Ducks. One of the major reasons Sauls picked Air Force, he said, is he can major in mechanical engineering.

“You’ll have your degree from where you graduate college for the rest of your life, but football is only temporary,” Sauls said.

Sauls had offers from Navy, Harvard and Cal Poly as well as Oregon and Air Force, but everything about Air Force appealed to him. His grandfather retired from the Air Force, so he said he had a “firsthand evaluation” of the Air Force.

“I felt like it was the best school for me academically, athletically and also morally,” Sauls said. “It just seemed like the best college for me.”

Sauls said he will be coming to the Air Force directly, bypassing the prep school, and he will play fullback for the Falcons. Those pieces of news could end up being very important for Air Force in 2011. The Falcons’ biggest need is at fullback after losing Jared Tew and Nathan Walker to graduation.

“Coach (Troy) Calhoun emphasized he has no problem starting a freshman, and coming in I’ll have to compete for that position but it’ll be there if I can get it,” Sauls said.

 

Air Force recruit gets up close look at Falcons during his official visit … to Wyoming

James Rushing, a defensive lineman from Houston, just happened to take his official recruiting visit to Wyoming on the weekend the Cowboys hosted Air Force. Before the game he was brought on the field by a host, who walked Rushing down the Air Force sideline. Rushing doesn’t think the host had any idea he already had an offer from Air Force and had met assistant coach Jemal Singleton at his home.

“I was standing there and (the coaches) were all looking at me and whispering ‘There’s Rushing,’” Rushing said.

When the host asked if Rushing was ready to go back to the stands, he said he wanted to linger on the sideline a bit – which gave him a chance to check out the Falcons during their pregame warmups (Wyoming had gone back to the locker room). Air Force beat Wyoming that day, but Rushing said nothing that happened that day really affected his decision, he just found the circumstance humorous.

“It’s a funny story,” Rushing said.

Rushing could have also ended up at Harvard. His official visit to Air Force clinched his decision.

“I got up there and I thought, ”This is where I belong,’” Rushing said.

He said he enjoyed the atmosphere at Wyoming, and knows Harvard offers a great education. One of the reasons he picked Air Force was he could be assured of a career after graduation.

“You can have a degree from Harvard, but that doesn’t guarantee you a job in this economy,” Rushing said.

 

Kent Rollins: Two-sport star at Air Force?

The football team isn’t the only squad at Air Force that might benefit from this year’s recruiting class.

Kent Rollins, a top quarterback prospect for the Falcons football team from South Gwinnett (Ga.) High School, also hopes to play baseball for the Falcons. Playing two sports at Air Force is rare, but not unheard of. And because the Falcons hold spring football practice so early (it’ll wrap up on March 16), there wouldn’t be too much overlap between the sports.

“I asked them about the possibility of playing both, and they said it’s doable, but football has the priority,” said Rollins, who will be going to the prep school.

While the baseball team might get a boost from Rollins at either second base or the outfield, his positions for South Gwinnett’s varsity team, the football team should be excited about his prospects at quarterback. He accounted for more than 6,000 yards his final two high-school seasons and of all the quarterbacks coming into the academy next year (and there are many, which I’ll detail later today), he is one of the most intriguing.

“They’re getting a phenomenal athlete and an unbelievable competitor,” South Gwinnett football coach John Small said. “He’s a winner. He exudes confidence. He’s not cocky or arrogant but those around him feed off his confidence. He wants the ball when the money is on the line.”

 

Recruiting can be a small world, too

Years ago – probably more years than they’d like to admit – Clay Hendrix and Bart Heres played on the offensive line together at Furman. Heres even spent some time coaching Hendrix when he moved on to be a graduate assistant.

Many years later, Clay Hendrix is a well-respected offensive line coach for Air Force and Bart Heres had a son who had grown to 6-foot-2 and a little more than 250 pounds and was a pretty good offensive lineman for Roswell (Ga.) High School. Wilson Heres went to a camp with then-Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell (who also had Furman ties and coached Bart Heres and Hendrix), and his future college path was altered.

“(Caldwell) told him that he wasn’t going to be quite tall enough to fit in with Vandy’s schemes,” Bart Heres said. “He did tell Wilson that he thought would do extremely well in Air Force’s O-line schemes.  Hearing that from an SEC coach sparked Wilson’s interest greatly.”

Wilson Heres had an invitation from Hendrix to attend an Air Force camp in June, and did so. He liked the school and committed to being a part of this year’s Falcons recruiting class.

“We are just so excited for Wilson to be going to AFA and playing for Coach Hendrix and Coach (Troy) Calhoun,” Bart Heres said.

 

Air Force bringing in some beef on the offensive line

Through Troy Calhoun’s first few years, the Falcons have gone small on the offensive line. Part of that is the size requirements at Air Force. Center Michael Hester was about 240 pounds last season. Left tackle Jason Kons weighed about 255. A.J. Wallerstein was the only offensive lineman on the first or second team last season that weighed more than 265 pounds.

Perhaps Air Force is trying to get a little bit bigger up front, judging by some of its incoming recruits. Blake Fussell of Snellville, Ga. can play center or guard and is listed at 270 pounds, although he will be a little smaller by the summer.

“I am weighing about 270 right now and still dropping weight like they have asked me to do,” Fussell said. “They would like for me to come in around 255 for basic training.”

Another big lineman the Falcons are bringing in is Ari Uzo-Okereke of San Juan Capistrano, Calif. His high school coach Greg Gibson said the 6-foot-5 1/2 guard played between 285 and 290 pounds last year, can squat 500 pounds and power clean 300 pounds. Uzo-Okereke  is a nice catch for the Falcons – he comes from a family that stresses academics and Gibson said he chose Air Force over Boise State.

“He’s big enough he could play in the NFL someday maybe,” Gibson said. “(The family) looked at it and said what you’re going to get from the Air Force Academy, you can’t get anywhere else.”

 

Long snapper Harrison Elliott hopes this will be the last time you hear his name

Want to get a Division I scholarship? Start practicing long snapping.

Harrison Elliott said he started snapping in the fourth grade. He said it was about his sophomore year when he started to realize he could play Division I football based on that skill. He started working with private snapping coach Chris Rubio about that time, and ended up committing to Air Force.

Elliott said he doesn’t know what offers he would have gotten, because he committed to Air Force so early, but said he had indications Georgia, Tennessee and Vanderbilt would have given him preferred walk-on status.

“I was so sure that Air Force was the place for me that I basically stopped talking to other schools,” Elliott said.

All the fuss over a long snapper sounds odd (Elliott’s highlight video – yes, he has one – claims he was the top ranked long snapper in Georgia and No. 6 in the nation) but it isn’t that unusual. Rubio said he had 66 long snappers go to college last year.

“It is something that started small and exploded,” said Rubio, who has been tutoring long snappers for nine years.

In high school, Elliott played some tight end and defensive end, but mostly was a long snapper. It paid off for him. While he could be an important member of Air Force’s special teams over the next few years, he hopes to stay far away from any publicity.

“I’m not a big fan in getting recognition,” Elliott said. “If no one knows my name, it means I’m doing my job right. When fans know who the long snapper is, that’s when the team has issues.”

 

Division I commitments also big for some high schools

Some schools produce multiple Division I college football recruits every year. When Dallis Joiner started at the Westminster Schools, a private, Christian school in Atlanta, there wasn’t that legacy. Before this year, one Westminster player in the last 15 years had earned a Division I football scholarship – Andrew Bridges, who went to Vanderbilt.

“As a freshman in high school I had a dream of playing D-1 football but it seemed like such a far off thing because no one from Westminster had really done it,” Joiner said.

Joiner played well enough at linebacker and fullback to catch the eye of college recruiters, and he eventually settled on Air Force. College teams also noticed Joiner’s teammate, running back Ralph David Abernathy, and he is going to Cincinnati (he also reportedly had an offer to come play for Air Force).

“This year a teammate and I are signing with D-1 schools, and it is really making teams around Georgia respect our program,” Joiner said. “We finished fifth in the state power rankings proving that we are not just an ordinary private school.”

Joiner said Westminster beat teams by “outsmarting our opponents with different schemes and a ridiculous amount of plays,” so it sounds like he’ll fit in at Air Force. He said he hopes his example helps other football players at Westminster.

“I think that me receiving this scholarship really gives hope to future players in the Westminster program,” Joiner said.

 

Another Weatheroy to Air Force

Today is signing day across college football, and I figured the best tale to get the day started was the brother of Paul Weatheroy, the first recruit Troy Calhoun visited as Air Force’s coach.

Miles Weatheroy, a defensive back from Portland, Ore., committed to Air Force last Wednesday.

“He’s very excited, and we of course are very excited,” said Paul Weatheroy Sr., the father of current cadet Paul Jr. and future cadet Miles. “It’s kind of a cool thing.”

Paul Weatheroy Sr. said Portland State, Montana State, Weber State, Washington State and Oregon State had also shown interest and had either offered him a scholarship or preferred walk-on status.

Miles and Paul Weatheroy Jr. won’t technically be at the academy together – Paul is a senior and Miles is a prep-school candidate – but it’s still a pretty neat story. Paul Weatheroy Jr. is hoping to make it back this season from multiple knee surgeries that derailed his career.

And Miles can follow his brother in getting an Air Force education. That Calhoun would want Miles Weatheroy on board isn’t surprising, considering Miles Weatheroy is a good player and Calhoun speaks of the Weatheroy family in highest regard.

“He’s really, really excited, and so is the family,” Weatheroy Sr. said. “It’s really good news.”

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