February 21, 2013
Get ready for a quarterback battle at Air Force Academy.
“You just need something to write about,” said a smiling Troy Calhoun.
No, coach, that’s not it. There’s nothing artificial about saying a friendly yet intense struggle for quarterback supremacy is beginning.
Kale Pearson and Jaleel Awini, two of the gems of Calhoun’s recruiting work in the past few seasons, are preparing for an entertaining competition to see who will replace Connor Dietz as the Falcons’ offensive leader.
You might remember Pearson, a 5-foot-9 junior-to-be. He’s the quarterback who scored the game-winning touchdown last season against Wyoming. He’s blessed with halfback-like speed. He won a state title in Oklahoma.
But he’s not a lock to become the Falcons' starter.
Awini, a sophomore-to-be, could bring a different look to Air Force’s backfield. He’s 6-2 with a smooth, powerful throwing motion. Calhoun is obsessive about a quarterback’s release, believing it is the most important aspect of effective passing.
“The ball comes off his hand clean,” Calhoun said with a trace of admiration.
Yes, it does.
And the ball comes off Awini’s hand with extreme velocity. He throws fastballs. On Thursday’s opening day of spring drills, Air Force receivers often struggled to control Awini’s throws.
“He has a cannon of an arm,” Pearson said. “The kid has nothing but a cannon.”
Awini and Pearson form something of a mutual admiration society.
“He’s an awesome competitor,” Awini said. “He pushes me. He pushes us all.”
Awini and Pearson are two of the finest athletes on Air Force’s squad, which leads us to this harsh truth:
Only one will emerge the victor.
For the past 11 seasons, the quarterback position at Air Force has been in a remarkably calm state. Chance Harridge started two seasons, followed by Shaun Carney and Tim Jefferson, who started for a combined eight seasons. When Jefferson graduated in 2011, Dietz was a virtual lock to start in 2012.
But peace at the position is about to end. This struggle at quarterback will do much to define the Falcons' offense.
Pearson is, like Dietz, a run-first quarterback. He can beat defensive backs to the corner, and he’s blessed with the required courage to challenge linebackers. His touchdown against Wyoming required him to take flight in his quest to reach the end zone. He returned a kickoff for a 90-yard touchdown in his high school title game. He could rush for more than 1,000 yards next season.
Awini brings back images of Jefferson. He stands tall and graceful in the pocket, and he’s tall enough to get a clear look downfield. If Awini wins the starting job, Calhoun might expand his playbook to include more deep passes, which could allow Awini to become one of the most dangerous passers of Air Force’s option era.
He can run, too. During his senior season at Rangeview High School in Aurora, Awini rushed for 1,088 yards and 17 touchdowns to go with 1,259 yards and 23 touchdowns through the air. He led Rangeview to an 11-1 record and turned down offers from CSU, Indiana and Vanderbilt to attend Air Force.
Let’s make this clear: Both Pearson and Awini have the talent and the will to revive Air Force’s offense, which vanished in the second half of last season.
Quarterback battles are fun to watch. There’s nothing quite like it in football because no position in sport is more important.
But these battles can throw teams into chaos. Think of how the Broncos collapsed when Mike Shanahan chose Jay Cutler over the extremely popular Jake Plummer in 2006.
Calhoun knows all about the complications these QB struggles can bring. That’s why he was smiling Thursday.
“You’re looking for something to write about,” he said.
Hey, coach, I’ll just watch this QB puzzle unfold.
You’re the one who has to solve it.