Tim Jefferson, Air Force’s quarterback of the recent past, stopped by a scrimmage earlier this month to encourage Connor Dietz, his backup for three seasons.
The two friends talked for a few minutes before Jefferson ended the conversation with this command:
“Do your thing, Connor,” Jefferson said before departing.
Don’t worry, Tim. Dietz is dead set on doing his thing this season.
The 2012 Air Force football season will be defined by Dietz, who has spent most of his career watching from the bench. He leads a team that will compete without the burden of great expectations, or much of any kind of expectations.
Last season, the Falcons underachieved their way to a 7-6 record. This season’s team will deserve a parade down Cascade if they overachieve to the same record.
Dietz was smiling after practice Monday as he recalled his conversation with Jefferson. He offered a translation of Jefferson’s parting words.
“Be me,” Dietz said. “I’m not trying to be anybody but me.”
The Dietz era will be brief, but it should be packed with thrills. Air Force has long been a run-first, run-second program, gobbling up yards and time on the clock with a relentless rushing attack.
But for the past eight seasons, surprisingly enough, the Falcons attack has been led by a quarterback who excelled more at passing than running. Shaun Carney and Jefferson were more dangerous with their arms than their legs.
Dietz is different. He’s one of the better runners in the Mountain West, and he’ll return the Falcons' attack to a more primal style. He’s the rare quarterback who enjoys punishing linebackers. He prefers the violence of the playing field to the safety of running out of bounds.
He’s a bigger, faster version of Chance Harridge, who rushed for 1,229 yards and 22 touchdowns while leading Air Force to eight wins in 2002. Dietz could match Chance’s numbers, largely because he’ll be running behind an athletic, superbly coached offensive line.
He seems at ease with his new role. He knows all eyes will rest on him once he takes the field Saturday for a warm-up “game” against Idaho State, but he’s been there before. Dietz led Columbus Hilliard Davidson to a 15-0 record and the Ohio state title as a senior.
He’s long wanted, and expected, to reign as the lead man of Air Force’s offense, and his chance finally has arrived.
He’s ready for scrutiny. He knows he will be given too much credit if the Falcons excel and battered with too much blame if they fail.
That’s fine with him.
“I’m my own harshest critic,” he said. “If I’m going to be happy, the team and the coaches are going to be happy, too.”
This will be a vastly different Air Force offense. Last season, Jefferson threw 204 passes, a shockingly high number for the Falcons' option attack. Dietz might not reach half that many throws in 2012.
But he’s deceptively dangerous with his arm. In 2010, New Mexico sent Jefferson to the bench with a shot to the face, and for a few minutes the Falcons were in disarray, struggling against what might have been America’s worst college football team.
Dietz rescued his teammates. In the final ticks of the second quarter, he lofted a perfectly thrown touchdown pass. The Lobos were expecting run, and Dietz burned them with his arm. The pass transformed a tight game into an Air Force rout.
On Monday at practice, Dietz surprised Air Force defenders by retreating into the pocket and delivering a 45-yard strike into the hands of tight end Austin Briehl.
Dietz had spent most of the afternoon with the ball in his hands, dodging teammates, moving fast on his feet. The pass revealed his dangerous versatility.
His teammates believe he’s ready. He believes he’s ready. I believe he’s ready.
Get ready: Dietz being himself will offer a great football show.