August 16, 2013 Updated: August 16, 2013 at 8:15 pm
Sam Gagliano pulses with the excitement of someone ready to make up for two lost years.
The Air Force receiver entered as a ballyhooed recruit two years ago, having earned the prestigious Athlete of the Year honors at the academy's prep school based on his performance in football and in track.
Then came the two-year gap.
First, he tore his ACL in the final week of basic training while pugil stick fighting. ("I stepped back kind of funny and it just popped," he said.) That took away his freshman season.
Then, he lost the first semester of his sophomore year to academic ineligibility ("long story," he said). He returned and played in the Armed Force Bowl, but recorded no statistics.
Now, he's finally ready.
"It's very exciting just knowing that I'm actually going to be able to play this year," said the junior from Waxahachie, Texas.
"I can't even express it."
Air Force seems excited, too.
In practice the Falcons have used the 5-foot-7, 185-pound burner, who once ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash, at three different receiver spots, lined him up as a wildcat quarterback and sent him back to return kicks.
"I've got a lot of favorites, but he's definitely one of them," quarterback Kale Pearson said. "He was out with me all summer. Whenever I'd call him he would drop what he was doing and come throw routes with me.
"He's one of those guys who can take a short route and take it to the house. He's got that kind of speed."
Coach Troy Calhoun likes Gagliano's versatility, having seen him as a receiver, tailback and wildcat quarterback in high school. Calhoun has also tracked Gagliano's progress recently and likes what he has seen.
"He's shown tremendous maturity," Calhoun said.
"He's a guy who's made some strides here in the past six months."
Perhaps not coincidentally, that time frame aligns with the arrival of Gagliano's fianc? Ellen Gordon, who moved to the Colorado Springs area last January after zipping through a sociology degree in 2? years at Texas State. She plans to eventually attend graduate school in the social work field.
The high school sweethearts will not be married until Gagliano is finished at the academy, in part because cadets are not allowed to have dependents, but he said having her nearby has been a huge plus.
So, everything seems in place for Gagliano.
Now we'll just have to see how he ultimately fits into Air Force's plans.
"I'm hoping I can get my hands on the ball a few times," he said.