Published: August 27, 2013
Kale Pearson waited for the switch, but it never happened.
The Air Force starting quarterback spent his first year at the academy playing several positions, including running back and kick returner. He was also lining up under center, playing in a handful of junior varsity games, but he figured his future would play out elsewhere.
"I thought they were going to eventually move me to receiver," Pearson said. "But they never did. I guess I ended up kind of getting the offense down."
Though he saw action in spots last year, Pearson's era as the Falcons quarterback officially begins this week with the opener against Colgate on Saturday.
That he would end up in this position was never a foregone conclusion. Not even to Pearson.
Football played a role in many of Pearson's earliest memories.
He remembers seeing a photo of himself as a baby with his dad, Preston, wearing his Emporia (Kan.) State jersey.
Years later, he recalled spending his Sunday afternoons in film sessions as his dad, a high school coach, would break down opponents. Kale and other coaches' kids would play in the back of the room or sometimes sit and watch the film.
"Football has always been my main sport," Kale said. "It's always been my dream and passion. Even when I'm done here, I wouldn't mind coming back and coaching. I love the sport a ton."
Pearson first got a taste of high school football as a sophomore, completing 19-of-24 passes for Tulsa Union as a backup.
The next season he moved to receiver and caught 30 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns. It was at this time that he received his offer from Air Force.
"I love coaches' kids," Falcons coach Troy Calhoun said. "Absolutely love them."
The Union coaching staff - including his father - gave Pearson the opportunity to again play quarterback as a senior, and he jumped at the chance.
He went 130 of 188 for 2,018 yards, 19 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also ran for 452 yards and 11 touchdowns. He led Union to a 13-1 record and threw for 305 yards and ran for three scores in a 50-47 victory over rival Jenks, giving the Redskins their third straight Oklahoma 6A title.
The game was named by MaxPreps as the wildest state football final in the nation's history.
Despite his prolific numbers as a quarterback, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Pearson was still considered an "athlete" during the recruiting process. He made an early commitment to Air Force and held to it after hometown Tulsa made a push late in the process.
Some dual-threat quarterbacks have fought to remain at the position.
Eric Crouch, for example, never played in the NFL following his Heisman Trophy at Nebraska, simply because he refused to think of himself as anything but a quarterback.
That was never Kale Pearson's stance.
"Coach Calhoun asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him I'm fine with whatever gets me on the field fastest," Pearson said.
That's why, during that first year, Pearson fully expected a move. He has speed that would have translated perfectly into a running back or receiver. But Calhoun values leadership qualities as much as anything in his quarterbacks, and that was always something he saw in Pearson.
"He's sharp," said Calhoun, himself a one-time undersized Air Force quarterback. "He's just a really good guy; one of those guys everybody respects. Humble. He's got great humility and he loves to play. He loves football."
For Calhoun, more than being the son of a coach, this traces back to Pearson's background as the son of two teachers. His mother, Lana, taught Kale in kindergarten (twice) and his father had him in a multicultural studies class in high school.
"I think that kids who come from homes of teachers, they have a service mentality," Calhoun said. "They relate well with others. Sometimes their communication skills can be a little more advanced; just their leadership qualities. They tend to be well-grounded."
So Calhoun never made the move. And last year he called on Pearson to replace starting quarterback Connor Dietz for one play at a crucial time late in the game against Wyoming.
Pearson responded with a 5-yard touchdown run that put the Falcons up 28-27 in a game they held on to win.
"I had gotten in games before, but it wasn't like vital situations," Pearson said. "I remember before the play I was like, 'I might actually have to make a play here.' When I did, I was like, 'OK, maybe I can do this, play D-I ball.'"
Seeing Pearson stand next to Jaleel Awini, it was impossible not to assume Air Force had a quarterback controversy on its hands.
Pearson, a junior, was a class ahead and had 10 games of game experience (albeit in a backup role) under his shoulder pads. But Awini had such an appearling look, towering 5 inches above his counterpart, weighing 25 pounds more and with a smooth release to accompany a powerful arm.
If anything, Pearson looked like a placeholder until Awini was ready.
But once again, the switch never happened.
Calhoun has never talked in specifics about the evaluation process of his quarterbacks, but to those watching practice it was apparent that Pearson steadily put distance between himself and his backup. In scrimmage situations particularly, Pearson seemed the steady field general while Awini looked frazzled and mistake-prone.
The announcement never came, but it hasn't been needed. This is Pearson's position and now his team.
For a school in which eras are generally marked by quarterbacks, a new time is about to begin.
"I am thankful for the position I'm in," Pearson said. "I've got to stay in this position and obviously win some games before I'm in a category with those guys from the past, but I am happy where I'm at. But I'm not satisfied."
And for a guy who never expected to be in this spot, that first snap can't come fast enough.
"Words can't express how excited I am," Pearson said. "I'm counting down the hours."