There’s a new safety making waves in Air Force’s defensive backfield.
Ben Waters, a sophomore from the powerful Valor Christian program in Highlands Ranch, has moved up from the lower groups and was taking first-team reps last week at free safety.
“I tell you what, Ben’s had a great spring,” defensive backs coach John Rudzinski said. “He had a really good scrimmage (on March 3rd), made some good plays in space. Ben’s got a really high ceiling and is a great worker. We’ve got really good competition at that free safety.”
The competition at the spot is perhaps what makes Waters’ emergence so noteworthy after he moved to defense from wide receiver this past August. The Falcons already had three returning starters for their two safety positions with Kyle Floyd back after starting the full season at strong safety and Garrett Kauppila (injured after starting the first three games) and his replacement, James Jones IV, returning at free safety.
But the team moved Floyd to its “spur” linebacker position at the beginning of spring practice to take advantage of that depth and slid Kauppila into that spot. Now Waters is giving Jones a strong challenge.
Waters and Jones, who will be juniors in the fall, were not available to media because of a new Air Force football policy allowing only senior players to be eligible for interviews.
“It’s an open tryout, just like every year should be,” Kauppila said. “They’re moving guys around. Nothing’s set in stone. It’s all written in pencil.
“There’s been lots of changes and it’s all based on performance. It’s all pretty objective. Everyone sees why; there’s no real confusion in the room. Everyone sees the film, everyone watches how guys are doing and the coaches are just trying to put the best guys on the field who not only deserve to be there but give us the best chance to win. Nothing we see now is necessarily what we’ll see in the fall. We’re all just fighting for a spot.”
Waters won 5A titles at Valor Christian as a senior and sophomore, finishing as a runner-up in his junior season. He was also a standout runner in track, clocking an 11.16-second 100-meter dash and 21.85 200 at state as a senior. He came to Air Force as a receiver, having caught 90 passes for 1,743 yards and 25 touchdowns as a two-way player in high school.
The coaching staff moved him in August, the same move it made with another area player – Brodie Hicks – who made a similar transition after coming to Air Force from Falcon and was a two-year starter at safety.
“Ben’s a fast learner and he’s very similar skillset-wise to that of a Brodie Hicks, talent-wise,” Rudzinski said.
“He works and he asks questions,” Kauppila said. “He wants to know how to do things. He wants to know his assignment as well as everyone else’s. He’s a smart guy. He gets the game. Those are the things that stand out to me that are giving him the ability to thrive.”