With players like Dailen Sutton, Air Force grows taller at cornerback

March 15, 2017 Updated: March 15, 2017 at 10:31 pm
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photo - Air Force defensive coordinator Steve Russ celebrates a big defensive play during the Falcons' 44-16 win over NIcholls State Saturday, August 30, 2014 at Falcon Stadium. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Air Force defensive coordinator Steve Russ celebrates a big defensive play during the Falcons' 44-16 win over NIcholls State Saturday, August 30, 2014 at Falcon Stadium. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Air Force's football recruits are growing noticeably larger, with some recent commits tipping the scales at or around 300.

While those weights on the hulking linemen stand out the most, another size transformation is creeping its way onto the depth chart right now.

Junior-to-be Dailen Sutton - who stands 6-foot-1 - has ascended to the first team at cornerback. Zane Lewis, a 6-foot-2 freshman, is taking second-team reps.

The added height is a departure for a program that by and large has featured corners standing well under 6 feet. That could come in handy at a spot where corners are often left on their own without safety help and combating receivers who generally carry a distinct height advantage - the Mountain West's top eight receivers last year averaged 6-foot-2.

"Physically they have as tough a job as anybody on our defense," defensive coordinator Steve Russ said.

But while they may look a bit different, it seems - at least in the case of Sutton (Lewis is not yet eligible to talk to media as a freshman) - the academic profile of these players hasn't changed.

Sutton chose Air Force over a host of Ivy League offers and Miami (Ohio). He signed on after being recruiting by defensive line coach Tim Cross ("Awesome man. He could sell water to a shark.").

Sutton is majoring in biology, and mulling careers as a physician's assistant, combat rescue officer or special tactics officer. Pilot training is also still a consideration.

Cornerback can be a tricky spot for a cerebral type, as players will inevitably lose battles on occasion. And when they do, it occurs out in the open for all to see.

The Air Force defense - which must replace all four starters in the secondary - gave up the most passing yards in the Mountain West last year (in league games) at 283.6 yards per game. Cornerbacks are only a piece of that, but they're generally the most visible piece.

"As a competitor, of course, you never want to let anything go, but to move forward, just like anything else, you've got to put it in the past and go back out there," said Sutton, a Dallas native who won the 300-meter hurdles title in high school while being a member of the National Honor Society.

"Sometimes I think it might be because they're so conscientious and they want to do so well and they're hard on themselves," Russ said. "That's one of the reasons why they're here is their whole life they've been hard on themselves and they've held themselves to a very, very high standard."

Maybe, just maybe, as players creep a little taller on the edges, those standards will be easier to reach.

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