Air Force has practiced five times since fall camp began Friday. Here’s a look at some things that have stood out since then:
1. Unexpected position open
This early in camp it is not usual to see players shift around with different groups, but it’s been particularly notable that junior cornerback Elisha Palm has played with the first-team defense for two straight days over returning starter Zane Lewis. “He grasps football,” coach Troy Calhoun said of Palm, who has lined up opposite Tre’ Bugg at cornerback. “He’s athletic, strong, extremely sharp — really, really sharp — and aware on the football field. I think a couple of tweaks we’ve done defensively will help him, especially at corner.” Another junior who has drawn praise in the secondary over the first week is Demani Hansford.
2. Scrimmage set for Saturday
Air Force practiced in full pads for the first time Wednesday, though there was no small amount of hitting in shoulder pads and helmets Monday and Tuesday. A violent inside running drill was among the Wednesday highlights. “First day in pads, might as well set the tone,” Calhoun said. The first scrimmage will be held from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday at Falcon Stadium. Calhoun said there will a large number of snaps taken in the scrimmage. “I can’t pinpoint a number,” he said. “If the over-under was 225, do not take the under.”
3. Fifita named to watch list
Nose guard Mosese Fifita was of 62 players nationally named to the Polynesian College Football Player of the Year watch list, announced earlier this week by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame. The 330-pound Fifita made 25 tackles in 12 games last year. When asked about it, Fifita hadn’t yet been told of his inclusion on the list but said his heritage (he’s half Tongan) “is very important to me.”
4. Juniors locked in after Thursday
Classes at the academy begin Thursday. Cadets are locked into their commitment as soon as they attend a class at the beginning of their junior year. While that may be a formality at this point, that means Air Force will officially lock in a significant number of contributors from a junior class that includes defensive end Jordan Jackson, quarterback Donald Hammond III, tailback Kade Remsberg, and outside linebacker Lakota Wills among several other returning starters.
5. Fagan still a cadet
Fullback Cole Fagan is no longer part of the team after being removed this past spring as he is part of an ongoing academy investigation. Coaches have indicated Fagan is unlikely to return after a junior season that saw him rush for 997 yards. Air Force officials did, however, confirm that Fagan “is still enrolled at the academy pending the outcome of the investigation.”
6. New Chance to play
Sophomore Chance Stevenson moved from quarterback to tailback after spring practice and has worked with the top varsity groups at the position. “Just felt like he had good balance,” Calhoun said. “He’s got a good lower body and is just as dependable as they come. He’s got good short-area quickness. Just felt like he could be downhill and be effective doing it.”
7. WR Cormier continues to impress
Rarely a practice goes without sophomore receiver David Cormier making a jaw-dropping play. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound former multisport athlete, from Albuquerque, has drawn comparisons to Jalen Robinette since signing as a three-star recruit. However, his path to playing time will have to go through Geraud Sanders, who brings a similar skill set. Offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen left open the possibility of playing Cormier and Sanders together on occasion. “You always tailor your offense to your personnel, always,” Thiessen said. “We’ll try to get the best people on the field. If those are the best two guys to get out there at the same time, yeah.”
8. Elite speed on offense
It was no secret that the combination of Kade Remsberg at tailback and Brandon Lewis at slot receiver would give Air Force elite speed, as both are sub-4.4-second runners in the 40-yard dash. Seeing it in person drives home that point, particularly with Lewis — who seems to have transformed his body as he enters his sophomore year. “After you’re done being a freshman you’ve got a chance to really develop your body the way you want to,” Thiessen said. “You can sleep a little bit. Eat a little bit more. You don’t have to march around everywhere. It’s a good four months where you’ve got a chance to go train like every other football player in the country, and our guys take advantage of that.” None of this is to say Remsberg or Lewis are locks at their positions. Josh Stoner and Nolan Eriksen look like they’ll post a challenge at tailback, while Ben Peterson and Ben Waters will push at slot receiver.
9. Young, but experienced, offensive line
As of Wednesday, the Falcons lined up with Parker Ferguson at left tackle, Nolan Laufenberg at left guard, Connor Vikupitz at center, Scott Hattock at right guard and Kyle Krepsz at right tackle. That’s an all-junior line, with the exception of the senior Vikupitz, yet it’s a veteran group that between the five appeared in 54 games with 37 starts last season.
10. Jiu-jitsu is the key
Thiessen, the former Air Force quarterback and center fielder, has lost 40 pounds over the past four months. He credits the change to a disciplined diet and picking up jiu-jitsu along with his family out of a gym in Monument and will even compete in Denver later this month.