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Signing day: Air Force football experiences no dip in recruiting despite challenges

February 7, 2018 Updated: February 8, 2018 at 6:08 am
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photo - Slot receiver Malik Rodgers, bottom left, "fell in love with Air Force immediately" and made it a point to encourage other recruits to pursue the academy. (PHOTO FROM TWITTER)
Slot receiver Malik Rodgers, bottom left, "fell in love with Air Force immediately" and made it a point to encourage other recruits to pursue the academy. (PHOTO FROM TWITTER) 

Malik Rodgers could sneak up on opponents as Air Force’s secret weapon next year.

The three-star, 5-foot-9, 165-pound slot receiver will enter directly as a freshman and could be a force in the return game, particularly if he can replicate the three return scores he posted as a senior in Pearland, Texas.

But Rodgers’ impact needn’t wait until the fall. He was already instrumental in helping the Falcons during the recruiting process.

Of the 81 players signed by Air Force on Wednesday, 16 came from Texas. The Lone Star state also produced four of the class’ nine three-star prospects.

“I’d say about 75.5 percent (was because of) me,” Rodgers said. “I give myself a lot of credit for that.”

He’s joking, but only a little. Rodgers said he persuaded cornerback Auston Deason to look into the service academy, and before long the three-star Deason had flipped his commitment from Texas State to Air Force.

“That was my biggest project yet,” said Rodgers, who was also an active voice on group chats and touted the academy to anyone who would listen.

Recruits in general seemed receptive to the message Air Force was sending, and that was no sure thing this year. The program lost three coaches over the past two months, including defensive coordinator Steve Russ, who handled the fertile Houston area in recruiting. This is also a rare season in which Air Force is coming off a losing season. And, unlike last year during the national signing period when rules permitted academy graduates to immediately pursue professional sports, the requirement is again for grads to serve at least two years on active duty before applying for that opportunity.

Still, recruiting didn’t suffer.

The number of three-stars signees according to 247Sports matched last year, and coach Troy Calhoun – who cannot discuss specific recruits – was pleased with the haul.

“The impressive part was the academic strength of this group and how many of them were in leadership roles not only as captains of their football teams but the significant contributions they’re making to other sports, too,” Calhoun said. “That’s not a brand new or novel theme in terms of what we pursue.”

The balance among the top-graded recruits tilted toward the defense, which included seven of the group's top 10 according to recruiting sites. The defenders included safeties David Eure and Gary Mossop Jr., Deason, defensive back Jaylen Jones, and outside linebackers Jace Bobo, Tim McClendon and Jace Waters. Three play on the offensive side – Rodgers, tight end Chris Kane and lineman Tyler Casados.

If Rodgers at times served as a traffic cop waving his fellow seniors in the direction of the academy, it was an unlikely role.

His father, Rick, was a 1993 Air Force graduate, but the Falcons staff didn’t realize that until after they had started pursuing Malik. He agreed to visit Air Force only to appease his father, but he had no real expectations.

He had already visited San Diego State, and while he liked the coaching staff and loved the city, it was missing something.

“I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew that wasn’t it,” Rodgers said. “It didn’t feel like it was at home. When you feel a place that’s like home, it automatically strikes you. And that’s what happened at Air Force. I immediately fell in love with it.”

Rodgers first visited in June, and three months later he committed. Then he began pursuing others to do the same.

When pen was put to paper Wednesday, it appeared he succeeded.

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