Kale Pearson and Jaleel Awini might need to worry about each other in their fight to win Air Force’s starting quarterback job, but they don’t have to worry about the weather conditions.
This is the second spring that Air Force has been able to utilize its privately funded $15.5 million Holaday Athletic Center, and the usefulness of the facility has never been more apparent than it is now with two unproven quarterbacks needing every opportunity to showcase their abilities.
“If it’s snowing out there and you can’t get better, spring isn’t helping you much,” Pearson said. “The facility, there’s no doubt it helps us.”
The 87,000 square-foot facility features a full-size field and 65-foot ceilings, so there is nothing impeding the team’s ability to run its full offense, defense and kicking game. This is a far cry from the past, when barriers existed to even gain access to an indoor surface.
“We’d probably be arguing with the track team to go practice for a little bit, which isn’t fair,” coach Troy Calhoun said Tuesday when asked what his teams of the past might have done that day when snow covered the outdoor practice fields and Falcon Stadium. “If you’re going to make a commitment, you have to have facilities. That’s where it has to start.”
Calhoun’s belief clearly runs deep. He donated $100,000 to the project. But he’s not a believer in wiping out conditions entirely. On cold days he’ll leave the doors open in the non-heated facility so his players are still dealing with reality.
“You just want to make sure you have decent footing,” he said. “We need the cold. When it’s windy and it’s cold, those are real-life conditions. By and large you tend to play on good surfaces, and so that’s one thing you want to make sure you have.”
So far this spring Air Force has practiced outside twice in eight sessions.
The players love it. Both Awini and Pearson committed to Air Force after groundbreaking on the facility and said it factored into their decision. The same thoughts were echoed repeatedly by high school seniors who chose Air Force last month on national signing day.
“Recruits walk in and see our indoor facility and they are wowed,” offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Blane Morgan said. “I’ve been to a lot of them and our place rivals any of them. How many places have a glass wall that’s looking at the mountain? I don’t know many of them.”
As a former Air Force quarterback, Morgan also knows the logistical advantages provided by the facility. The indoor field at the academy’s Cadet Fieldhouse is not full size, so only bits and pieces of the offense could be run at a time.
Awini said players take full advantage of the new facility throughout the offseason, where seven-on-seven games and individual workouts have allowed skill-position players to stay sharp.
“Every winter me and Kale are in there with wide receivers to get our timing down,” said Awini, a graduate of Rangeview High School in Aurora. “It’s so nice. It would have been nice in high school to have a place like this.”
The day the facility opened prior to the 2011 season Calhoun proclaimed that it went “beyond what the ultimate dreams were.” He has not backed off that praise in the 20 months since then.
“I don’t think you’ll see the best fruits of this place until about five years after it’s been built,” he said. “You’ll have a chance to attract some good officer candidates here to the school and take full advantage of the development that can occur each and every day.”