Jake Matkovich tall on potential as Air Force's next wide receiver

March 8, 2017 Updated: March 8, 2017 at 12:02 pm
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photo - Receiver Jacob Matkovich makes a catch during spring practice Thursday, March 2, 2017, at Air Force Academy. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)
Receiver Jacob Matkovich makes a catch during spring practice Thursday, March 2, 2017, at Air Force Academy. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock) 

Air Force could enter the 2017 season with a basketball-loving receiver from the Rust Belt who is known best for high-pointing balls.

No, Jalen Robinette is not returning. Jake Matkovich, however, checks all of the boxes when it comes to finding a worthy replacement.

"He's got a big chance, but he's got a lot to prove," offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen said. "He's not the only one. It's not like he's the guy."

Before the 6-foot-5 Matkovich can officially be anointed as the heir apparent to Robinette he'll have to fend off challenges from Marcus Bennett, Cody Bronkar and current freshmen Geraud Sanders and Xavier Price.

But Matkovich has made a strong case for the position over the past 12 months. He dominated last year's spring game, rising above shorter defenders to haul in a number of deep balls. He did the same thing in August, often against the No. 2 defense. On Saturday he made a deep catch over the middle on the second play against the No. 1 defense.

"I feel like I can go up and get the ball pretty well," said Matkovich, who will be a junior in the upcoming season. "When we need to make plays, I feel like I can make those plays for us."

Why wouldn't he? That's all he's done since moving to receiver.

After playing quarterback during his first two years at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Matkovich broke out with 56 catches for 973 yards and nine touchdowns in his first season at receiver as a junior. As a senior he earned the Al Toon Award, given to Wisconsin's best receiver, when he caught 100 passes for state records of 1,725 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Like Robinette, an Ohio native, Matkovich had grown up assuming he'd play basketball in college. But those two seasons at receiver changed that.

Matkovich had offers to walk on at Wisconsin and Minnesota and scholarships on the table from several FCS programs when Air Force linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden began recruiting him.

Not familiar with the program, Matkovich reached out to former Falcons offensive lineman Jason Kons, who went to the same high school.

"He let me know about it and how it sets you up for life after it," Matkovich said.

So, Matkovich entered the academy directly out of high school and learned for two seasons as Robinette monopolized the playing time at the position. With Robinette gone, that void must be filled by someone.

"It's a little different. We all looked to Jalen if there was ever something that came up," Matkovich said. "But it's wide open. Everybody's constantly trying to get better. We're paying attention in film and just trying to make the most of any opportunity you get."

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