Air Force’s season-opening depth chart reveals deep losses to the roster as the team was granted around 40 administrative turnbacks.
The team’s roster and depth chart were released Monday, shortly after The Gazette published a copy it had obtained.
The quarterback position apparently remains open, with sophomore Haaziq Daniels and junior Warren Bryan listed with an "-or-" on the chart. The defensive side, as earlier reported by The Gazette, shows the most hits as none of the five eligible returning starters are back and four freshmen appear on the two-deep list.
“Took a semester off" said a communication from one player provided to The Gazette in discussing the attempt to gain an extra year of eligibility through the use of a turnback — a broadly worded policy that allows cadets to separate from the academy in instances of hardships but can also be interpreted to include things like a church mission or travel opportunities. That missed time is then tacked onto the end of a cadet's time at the academy.
Football players away on turnbacks will not be able to return this semester, despite the reversal from the Mountain West last week that now has Air Force looking at a nine-game season this fall. In August, football had largely been delayed until spring because of COVID-19 (with the exception of the Navy and Army games, which remain on the schedule).
Air Force has offered no comments on turnbacks nor made any football coaches or players available to media throughout the preseason. Two team-selected players and coach Troy Calhoun will conduct interviews Tuesday in the first media session of the season and only one until after the game against Navy. The Midshipmen, on the other hand, provided players and coaches each day during the preseason and have offered Zoom-based sessions with nine players, eight assistants and three opportunities with coach Ken Niumatalolo in the leadup to the game against the Falcons.
The Falcons will enter the game without a returning starter on defense, as the five returnees are not on the roster or depth chart. It's a group that includes cornerback Milton Bugg III, defensive lineman Christopher Herrera, defensive end Jordan Jackson, linebacker Demonte Meeks and outside linebacker Lakota Wills. The other regular defensive starters from the team that went 11-2 in 2019 graduated.
Some experience remains. Outside linebacker Grant Donaldson, defensive MVP of the 2019 Cheez-It Bowl, returns. Outside linebacker Parker Noren, defensive end Michael Purcell and defensive tackle Kaleb Nunez have started games in their careers. Safety Corvan Taylor worked with the starting defense throughout spring practice. Linebacker Noah Bush and cornerback David Eure, both juniors, were three-star recruits who have played on special teams.
The other spots on defense are filled with upperclassmen, with seniors Joey Woodring (nose guard), Will Trawick (linebacker) and Elisha Palm (cornerback) joining junior safety Ethan Erickson (among the team’s older players after taking a two-year church mission) among the group penciled in to start.
"They’re very similar to us, and so you have your JV team, your prep school, the guys kind of grow up in your program," Niumatalolo said Monday. "It’s not like you get junior college guys who are in there for the first time.
"We expect them to be a good team, we just don’t know who they are."
Depth charts from Air Force, however, are generally mere suggestions. Calhoun has released depth charts in recent years that showed Nate Romine as his starting quarterback after Romine suffered a season-ending knee injury and that included Garrett Kauppila as a starting safety after a broken collarbone truncated his year.
Most of the offensive depth chart seems secure, though. The offensive line — Parker Ferguson (left tackle), Nolan Laufenberg (left guard), Nicholas Noyen (center), Kyle Krepsz (right guard) and Adam Jewell (right tackle) — remains as it would have projected under normal circumstances. Standouts in tailback Kadin Remsberg and fullback Timothy Jackson occupy the backfield. Slot receivers Ben Peterson and Brandon Lewis and tight end Kyle Patterson are all in the spots they expected to hold.
Daniels and Bryan share the quarterback spot as returning starter Donald Hammond III is currently unavailable because of a loss of good standing as a cadet.
A review of the roster shows that of the 60 non-seniors listed on the 2019 roster, only 28 are on the initial 2020 list. That does not mean all 32 missing have taken turnbacks. Some players could have left the academy or opted not to play football. The rosters themselves also paint an incomplete picture. Air Force regularly lists far fewer players on its rosters than are actually on the team. Last year’s roster, for example, listed just one freshman and 23 sophomores but 36 juniors and 31 seniors when in reality the younger classes generally have the largest numbers. The team provides “joiner” rosters before each game that list players not listed on the roster but who might play.
By contrast, Army’s roster currently lists 170 players. Navy’s is at 150 players. Air Force listed 91 players on its final 2019 roster and has 69 on the 2020 list.