Published: August 1, 2013
During a quiet spring football scrimmage at Falcon Stadium, I looked across the field and saw a man howling with tremendous joy as he rose to astonishing heights.
"I was four feet off the ground,' said Charlton Warren, Air Force's defensive coordinator. I'd put him at 3 feet, maybe 3?, but let's not quibble.
Warren had just watched Air Force defensive back Chris Miller flatten teammate and tight end Garrett Griffin with a vicious, legal hit. Warren sought, in his outlandish, high-rise display of joy, to show his players emotion is not a luxury for the Air Force defense.
It's a requirement.
There is plenty of reason for continued pessimism when it comes to Air Force's defense. As usual, the Falcons lack size and speed.
And yet .
When Warren walks on the practice field each day, jammed with so much enthusiasm he's about to bust, there is reason, despite everything, for optimism.
"The enthusiasm I show is the enthusiasm our players have to play with," Warren said Thursday after the Falcons' first fall practice. "It's not a once-a-time deal. It's an all-the-time deal. We have to play with emotion. It's got to be 11 together, everybody for everybody."
Warren, in his second season as lead coordinator, is seeking to transform Air Force's defense. This makes sense. A radical transformation is required. Air Force stumbled to a 13-13 record over the past two seasons while allowing more than 30 points 12 times. Those 13 victories came over opponents with a combined record of 46 victories and 104 losses.
In Air Force's final two games last season, losses to Fresno State and Rice, the Falcons surrendered 81 points and 1,106 yards of total offense.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter once served as Air Force's defensive coordinator. He's an AFA alum. He showed mercy to Warren, a friend. An unmerciful DeRuyter could have commanded his team to score, say, 80 points.
Warren wanted his defense to play in an attacking, daring style last season, but lack of experience forced him to embrace a more conservative mode. Last August, Warren discovered he had lost linebacker Jamil Cooks and safety Anthony Wooding to suspension. Both were probable starters and stars.
The Falcons will not stifle enemy offenses this season with size and speed alone. Warren, a realist, understands this truth. Instead, he searches for ways for the Falcons to stop opponents with the element of surprise. He plans unpredictable, constant blitzing.
"We have to find ways to overwhelm teams," he said. "We're going to have to take some chances. We're not going to sit back and be bowling pins. We are not going to do that."
Linebacker Joey Nichol agrees. Nichol promises a swarming collection of defenders devoted to overcoming their lack of physical gifts.
Nichol admires Warren's approach to the game. He sometimes looks over, just before the snap, and sees someone - usually a fellow assistant coach - dragging Warren off the field and back to the sideline.
"I love that emotion," Nichol said. "He's always cheering and screaming."
Warren has been recovering from an injury to his Achilles. This limited his leaping ability last season.
He's hoping to jump for joy often this season. After a big hit, you might even see him 4 feet off the ground.