Air Force will play its bowl game with a commissioned officer under center.
Quarterback Connor Dietz will graduate in a small ceremony Wednesday morning and be commissioned as a second lieutenant. In a whole new twist on the Mile High salute, his teammates do technically have to snap to attention in his presence.
“They’re trying to get me to have my butter bars, the lieutenant sign, on my jersey,” Dietz said.
Kidding aside, Dietz couldn’t be more relieved to be finished.
“I can’t stress that enough,” he said. “To be done and kind of have all your academics behind you and to be graduating from a place like this, it means a lot.”
His time at the academy was extended after a broken hand suffered as a sophomore year lingered into the spring semester and required him to spread out his academic workload. Such an arrangement is not common, but happens occasionally. Dietz will be graduating with four others in a small ceremony.
Taking a ninth semester is often a last resort for cadets, who subsequently have to miss out on the prestigious graduation ceremony in Falcon Stadium.
“It’s perfectly fine with me,” said the Ohio native, who has 1,127 passing and 658 rushing yards. “As long as I get that diploma, I think I’ll be all right.”
After leading the Falcons (6-6) in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl against Rice (6-6) on Dec. 29, Dietz will have 60 days of leave before reporting to MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Fla.
“That’s a neat, neat deal,” Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. “Over the last four and a half years to see how much Connor has grown and developed, especially as a young man, and these guys have a ton of respect for him. We’re lucky to have him as a second lieutenant.”
Dietz played sparingly through his first four years behind Tim Jefferson before moving into the starting role this season. He started three games as a sophomore before suffering the broken hand in the first quarter against Utah – he finished the game.
“Connor has been one of my good friends since I came here,” Falcons leading rusher Cody Getz said. “He and I finally got that chance to work together and be kind of that duo, but it’s going to be more exciting that he’s finally getting out of here.
“If there’s a kid that deserves it, it’s him; he’s busted his butt.”
Not only will Dietz enter the bowl free of academic stress, but he’s finally over the pain in his shoulder that forced him out of the regular-season finale against Fresno State.
“I didn’t feel like myself,” he said. “I do now, and I’m happy right now.”
He’s happy, all right.
“I won’t have a hat (to throw at Wednesday’s ceremony),” Dietz said. “So I think I’ll just smile real big.”