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Ramsey: Kale Pearson and his repaired knee should start at QB for Air Force

By: DAVID RAMSEY The Gazette
March 20, 2014 Updated: March 20, 2014 at 6:24 pm
Caption +
"This is my senior year, and this is going to be my job," Air Force Academy quarterback Kale Pearson said. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Kale Pearson wants to make an announcement to all those wondering about Air Force's starting quarterback position.

"This is my senior year, and this is going to be my job," Pearson said Wednesday a few minutes after watching the Falcons engage in a spirited, and sloppy, scrimmage at District 20 Stadium.

Pearson believes a struggling Air Force football program needs him back at the helm. I agree with him.

Freshman running back emerges in Air Force spring game

Pearson was standing in street clothes, supported by his surgically repaired right knee. He couldn't play in Air Force's final 11 games last season, and he couldn't play in Wednesday's scrimmage.

A few feet away, sophomore-to-be Nate Romine was surrounded by reporters. Romine, who is 5-foot-11, is taller than Pearson and blessed with a stronger arm. He showed promise last season as one of the few glimmers in the gloom of a 2-10 season.

Romine's knees are sound, and he delivered an impressive performance in Wednesday's scrimmage. He's the clear favorite to start at quarterback in 2014.

But Pearson is the right man for the job. He's a run-first quarterback, the ideal operator of an offense that will disdain the pass and obsess on a ground attack.

Air Force defenders will be decent, at best, in 2014, and that's if the Falcons make an enormous leap from last season when the defense was historically generous. The 2014 Falcons offense needs to keep opposing offenses off the field. In 2015, the Air Force defense could be strong enough for coach Troy Calhoun to use a quarterback who passes better than he runs. This describes Romine.

Next season, the Falcons require a quarterback who adores taking on linebackers in the open field, a quarterback who passes less than 10 times a game.

This describes Pearson.

Don't make the mistake of underestimating Pearson. Last spring, I watched Pearson do battle with Jaleel Awini for the starting job. Awini, since departed to Colorado, boasts the size of an NFL starter along with a powerful arm. I gave Pearson no chance to win the job.

But through persistence and precision, Pearson walked on the field Aug. 30 against Colgate as the starter.

I believe he'll win the job again. He's the best choice to lead the Falcons' exit from college football's dark and moldy basement.

Pearson often looks at the scar on his right knee and thinks back to Air Force's home opener against Colgate. He roared out of the backfield on an option run and saw Colgate's Kris Kent awaiting him in the open field.

This is where the play slows down in Pearson's mind. He faked inside against Kent and then sprinted toward the sideline. Pearson wonders, and always will wonder, why he didn't deliver a better fake.

"Maybe I'm still healthy," Pearson said in a soft voice in the fading sunlight. "Maybe I play all of last year. I think about it all the time. I won't ever forget that play, that's for sure."

When Kent slammed into Pearson's thigh, the timing was unfortunately ideal for a severe injury. Pearson's foot remained caught for an instant in the fake grass, and he heard a loud pop.

The most excruciating pain arrived later as Pearson attempted to rehab his knee. After rigorous workouts, Pearson wondered if his quest was doomed.

Those doubts are gone, replaced by a steely confidence, but Pearson realizes doubters are lurking out there. He's always been an undersized quarterback. Now he's a 5-foot-9 quarterback with an iffy knee.

"I know people are saying that I can't come back, that maybe I'm not the same," Pearson said. "I love the skepticism."

His knee is at 85 percent, Pearson said, and he's confident his leg will be back to full strength by August. This is when Pearson begins his struggle to regain a job he considers his and his alone.

The two quarterbacks are friends. Romine teases Pearson about his short arms, and Pearson often calls Romine "scatter brains." Romine understands the description. "You never know what I'm going to say," he said, laughing.

Romine supports Pearson's extreme optimism, and he looks forward to a fierce and friendly struggle.

"Who can run the triple option the best," Romine said. "That's who is going to win the job."

I'm picking Pearson. He's the better runner, and he's driven by deep frustrations.

Last season was packed with agony for Pearson. He was forced to watch road games on TV, but the games packed even more pain at Falcon Stadium. Pearson watched a few yards from the field, helpless to help, as his teammates bumbled through repeated beatings.

"I love this game more than anything, and I love my teammates," Pearson said. "After seeing us win only two games last year, I just feel it's my job to come back and to be the guy."

Pearson, the former spectator, is convinced he'll be the man in 2014.

I share his confidence.


Twitter: @davidlukeramsey

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