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Back at his favorite spot, Air Force offensive line coach Steed Lobotzke 'can't wipe the smile off my face'

March 17, 2017 Updated: March 17, 2017 at 8:15 pm
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Air Force offensive line coach Steed Lobotzke teaches during spring practice Thursday, March 2, 2017, at Air Force Academy. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

The differences in coaching on Air Force's offensive line will be subtle in moving from Clay Hendrix to Steed Lobotzke.

That in itself ought to be seen as good news for Falcons fans.

Hendrix spent a decade running a line that consistently churned out a top-five rushing attack. He left this offseason to become the head coach at Furman -- his alma mater (and that of his wife) and the program where he spent more than two decades as an assistant.

But waiting in the wings was Lobotzke, a former Air Force offensive linemen whose credentials are equally impressive after running lines at Ohio and Wake Forest for nearly 20 years.

"We are so, so fortunate in that regard," said coach Troy Calhoun, who brought Lobotzke onto his staff two years ago as a tight ends coach. "Every spot's important. That's a crucial spot."

Lobotzke said he didn't return to Air Force with the expectation that the offensive line position would open. After all, Hendrix had been there throughout Calhoun's tenure, was the highest-paid offensive assistant and may well have stayed for another 10 years had Furman not come calling.

But Lobotzke is happy things turned out as they did.

"It's like homecoming," he said. "I can't wipe the smile off my face.

"I didn't have any hopes. I did try to put myself in this position by working with Clay a lot and learning how he coached because I did want to be this guy if it happened. But I was content to be the tight ends coach here for the next decade and never look over my shoulder and never look back."

The players haven't noticed much of a change through the first half of spring practice in part because Maj. Ross Weaver is still on board as an offensive line assistant.

"Not too much has changed, honestly," center Alex Norton said. "He's trying to keep as much as possible the same."

Added right tackle James Rast, "Even though it's a different style at top, there's a lot of continuity in terms of what he's actually coaching us."

The differences will be minor and may take years to manifest themselves.

For one, it will now be Lobotzke joining with offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen in giving the final say on which offensive line recruits to target.

"I'll have a little bit different attitude about guys who maybe Clay would have liked more but I don't like as much, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out," Lobotzke said. "But at the end of the day I think Mike and I have a good feel for what we are on offense and what we need up front."

The other difference will come as good news to young linemen in the Falcons' system as they try to break in on a line that returns seniors Rast (13 starts last year), Norton (13 starts), left tackle Jake Barnhorst (11 games played, seven starts) and Ryan Beveridge (six games played) along with a newcomer in junior right guard Griffin Landrum.

"I'm a type-A, Air Force Academy economics major who knows how to dot the I's and cross the T's," Lobotzke said. "I'm going to try to make it a very detailed style of teaching that I hope is very simple. My goal is to make the playbook so simple for them that the youngest guys know it as well as the oldest guys, and then I can get the best talent on the field as soon as possible."

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