Christian Spears could hardly contain his smile Thursday.

Yes, the senior safety was excited to be back on the practice field to begin his final football season at Air Force. But also, just hours before, he had completed his final in Astronautical Engineering and felt like he nailed it.

"I feel kind of cool to be able to say I did it," Spears said. "I'm probably the only safety in the Mountain West Conference who can make a claim like that."

With classes like that wrapping up Thursday and Friday for Spears and other upperclassmen, the Falcon football team not only started practice but entered a rare window before the start of the semester on Aug. 13 in which the schedule mirrors that of any other college football team. No classes, no tests, no extra work load - just the sport.

"Mentally, physically and even emotionally we can just pour ourselves into football for these next two weeks and be that much better on the other end of it," Spears said.

Of course, that's not true for everyone. The freshmen were bussed back to Jacks Valley for more basic training after practice and won't return for a few days.

That notwithstanding, football season is underway for the Falcons; even if the actual season doesn't kick off until Nicholls State visits Aug. 30.

"I've been ready. I think we've all been ready. You can see it today, everybody is excited," outside linebacker Dexter Walker said. "You can feel it in the locker room, there's just a different vibe. Different hearts, different motives; I think we all know what we want and we're just going to shock the nation this year."

Air Force is coming off an injury-ravaged 2-10 season but lost little to graduation and is stocked with experience. It also has two new coaches in the fold, several other assistants who have moved to different position groups and there is added size both in the form of new players and in extra bulk on those returning.

"You can tell our guys have done very, very good work in the offseason physically," coach Troy Calhoun said. "Our bodies are better."

The Falcons held their first practice indoors at the Holaday Athletic Center after rain soaked the practice field.

The massive number of players made the 92,000 square-foot facility feel a bit cramped, but those numbers will be thinned out in coming weeks.

Cuts will be worried about later. Classes will be worried about later.

On Thursday, it was just all about getting back on the football field.

"It was the first day," Calhoun said. "More than anything, we're just trying to get back in the groove."

Air Force practiced in helmets only Thursday and will do so again Friday, per NCAA rules. The first practice in full pads will be Tuesday.