There may be nobody in Air Force’s fall camp happier than Ben Waters.
After three years spent shifting between offense and defense, the senior from Valor Christian is back at slot receiver and making a strong push for playing time.
“I love it. It’s been awesome. It’s been the best thing ever,” Waters said. “I mean, I loved being on defense; I learned a lot about football and everything. But being able to come back on offense as a contributor has been a thrill for me, for sure.”
Air Force was decimated by graduation at the slot receiver spot that, losing three-year contributor Ronald Cleveland as well as Garrett Amy and Andrew Smith. Brandon Lewis logged time at the spot last year as a freshman and his sub-4.40-second 40-yard dash speed will ensure he finds a role. Junior Ben Peterson is also in the mix, taking the top spot on the offseason depth chart.
But the door is absolutely open at the spot, and Waters has spent the first week of practice wedging himself in position to go through it first.
“That’s where he belongs,” coach Troy Calhoun said. “He’s one of those guys you wouldn’t be surprised a bit if he didn’t start and starts a good number of games there.”
Waters credits high-profile tutelage he received at his Highlands Ranch high school, which has spent about a decade as the premier program in the state.
His career overlapped by two years with Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey, and his best friend and former quarterback was five-star recruit Dylan McCaffrey, who plays for Michigan.
“That family’s the best,” Waters said. “I learned a lot from them, too. Christian kind of taught me how to run with the ball and Dylan taught me how to catch the ball.”
Waters won 5A state titles as a sophomore and senior with Valor Christian (finishing second as a junior) catching 90 passes for 1,743 yards and 25 touchdowns as a two-way player in high school. He also ran an 11.16-second 100-meter dash and a 21.85 200 at state track as a senior.
He said the academics and discipline at the private school left him prepared for the academy, as did playing in a football program with high standards.
“I learned a lot about football,” Waters said. “My head coach (Rod Sherman) was very good about making sure we understand not just the plays, but why we run the plays.”
He was as surprised as anyone to end up at Air Force. He had just returned from an out-of-state camp when Sherman signed him up for a Falcons camp and told him, “You’re going.” The Air Force staff offered him that week, and he eventually accepted. He arrived as a receiver, but moved to safety as a sophomore. In spring of his junior season he came back to the offensive side.
He has appeared in 16 games, with the majority of that time coming on specials teams.
“He’s got good ball skills, and it’s just a natural position for him,” Calhoun said of Waters’ return to offense. “It’s where he wants to be and yet he’s been an incredibly unselfish teammate playing at other spots.
“He has emerged as a guy who is going to play a bunch for us. He’ll absolutely contest for many, many snaps.”
Waters doesn’t just want to play, however. The management major and oldest of six children in his family wants to win. After back-to-back 5-7 seasons that have felt so foreign to him after his run at Valor Christian, a strong campaign would be the ultimate topper to a senior year that has already brought him the position change he wanted.
“It’s been a dream come true,” Waters said. “Now we’re ready to take over and win a bunch of games.”