Published: July 31, 2013
At any other school, a quarterback like Kale Pearson who is fighting for a starting position would spend his summer throwing routes with teammates who are all perfecting the same playbook.
Pearson didn't have that choice with Air Force during a summer that officially ends with the first practice Thursday afternoon.
The junior, who played with the first team throughout spring practice but didn't pull away from sophomore Jaleel Awini in an attempt to replace Connor Dietz, instead spent his nine-week summer split between three weeks at home in, three weeks at Tinker Air Force Base near Oklahoma City and now assisting with basic training.
The only football players who joined Pearson at Tinker AFB were defensive teammates, so his skill work was severely limited and mostly included throwing with friends at home near Tulsa, Okla.
Of course, the quarterback position is as much about leadership as anything, and Pearson saw plenty of work in that area this summer.
He caught up with The Gazette at Jacks Valley on Tuesday morning serving as a cadre superintendent and assisting as incoming cadets ran the assault course at part of basic training.
"Last year I was kind of hesitant to yell at the younger guys, just because I know what it feels like," Pearson said. "But as you get older, you know you need to make them earn it.
"Even out here, you can see the improvement because they have to do this course twice. The first time they come through you have these cocky kids who don't really get it. They mature just through this course and you see it the second time they come through."
Maturing will no doubt be a big focus for the Falcons and is why the next few weeks of preseason practice figure to be as intense as any in recent memory.
The offense must replace all but three starters and break in new personnel at quarterback, tailback and fullback. All these changes will come while potentially adding new passing wrinkles that were featured prominently in the spring.
Air Force won't necessarily abandon its option-based offense even if it does continue to add aerial options, nor does everyone want to see such a change.
"I enjoy it. I hope we don't go away from it," senior offensive lineman Austin Hayes said. "We do it well, and I think it's something we can carry on for a long time. Or at least I hope so, but that's kind of just my own wishful thinking."
Air Force has recruited larger players over the past two years, potentially in hopes of finding linemen heavy enough to both handle the academy's rigors and the demands of pass protection. Coaches also told recruits last offseason to expect to see more passing.
If that change is coming this season, the next few weeks will be critical in its implementation.
The defense will also be overhauled, particularly up front and in the linebacker positions.
The new crew will be asked to fix a unit that allowed the 99th most rushing yards per game in NCAA Division I last year.
A new kicker will also be broken in as the Falcons reconvene.
Of all these changes, the biggest spotlight will shine on who takes over at quarterback. Pearson knows this all too well.
"You can't really get away from it," Pearson said. "Obviously you've got friends back home and people who know you're playing quarterback. It's no big deal. But yeah, it'll be good to get going again."