Air Force Academy standout running back Joseph Saucier pleaded guilty Thursday to cocaine use and possessing marijuana, blaming a gridiron injury and academic pressure for his foray into drug use.

Under a plea deal, military prosecutors dropped accusations that Saucier intended to distribute both drugs, a move that saved him a potential penalty of 15 years in prison at a court-martial.

Air Force judge Lt. Col. Sterling Pendelton accepted the deal Thursday morning at the academy but did not immediately sentence the senior cadet. While the sentencing details of the plea deal haven’t been announced, Saucier was expected to ask the judge for leniency.

Saucier was held off the Falcons football squad this year after a December arrest in Arkansas on suspicion of drug possession. Prosecutors say Saucier earlier used cocaine in Colorado Springs in November, an allegation Saucier admitted to Thursday when questioned by the judge.

Saucier admitted Thursday to inhaling a line of cocaine Nov. 24. He admitted deciding to experiment with the drug while in a “terrible state mentally” due to a knee ligament tear that ended his season and had the potential to end his football career. He said the cocaine use was also motivated by “strong academic pressure,” amid family and personal issues.

After snorting the cocaine, “I felt alert, a little panicky, anxious,” and a “euphoric feeling,” he said.

The cocaine use turned up on a routine academy drug test.

The next month, Saucier was arrested in his Arkansas hometown for “possession with purpose to deliver.” Saucier told the judge Thursday that he, his little brother and friends were “freestyle rapping” in his car in a church parking lot when police approached and smelled marijuana.

Saucier admitted possessing 2.14 grams of cocaine and 9.6 grams of marijuana in the incident. He later told the judge that the marijuana the police officer smelled was his brother’s.

The cadet admitted telling police he had an altruistic motive for having the narcotics. Saucier said he was going to sell the drugs “to make money for my brother,” whom he said was homeless. He told the military judge he thought it was worse for a cadet to be accused of using cocaine than distributing it.

Saucier said the cocaine was thrown in as a bonus by a drug dealer on a pot purchase.

Saucier fumbled under questioning by the military judge, at one point saying, “I had the intent to sell it (the drugs) — correction, I apologize — I had the intent to” use it personally.

Academy cadets are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice even when they’re off campus. Military prosecutors took over the Saucier case.

Saucier was the team’s change-of-pace back in 2018, with 420 yards from scrimmage and a pair of touchdowns. His 6.4 yards per carry led the team, and he also threw for a score.

He came to the academy as a high school phenom who topped his school’s record books for the 100-meter dash.

He was also known as an eccentric on the academy team, admittedly liking football more than military training and academic rigor.

“I came here to play football,” Saucier told The Gazette last year. “I didn’t come here to be a cadet.”

Under his guilty plea, Saucier could get time behind bars in addition to the four days he spent in an Arkansas jail. The military can also levy fines and boot him from the service.

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