Grant Theil has the right thing going for him in an uphill battle for playing time.
When he’s seen action, the Air Force safety has produced.
In his first career start last year he made seven tackles, intercepted a pass and forced a fumble.
“I think the biggest thing is I’m just comfortable out there,” he said. “Hopefully that gives a little confidence to everyone else just knowing I’m confident in myself, confident in the playbook and I can go out there and execute.”
That start came in Week 10, a victory over New Mexico. Theil drew starts over the final three weeks of the season, but split time with Garrett Kauppila, who had been the starter and was easing back into playing time after a broken arm.
Now, Kauppila is fully healthy and back at the position.
So is Jeremy Fejedelem at the free safety spot. James Jones IV, who had entered last year as a returning starter before a knee injury, is also set to return, though he may slide to cornerback.
So there’s suddenly a logjam of seniors at safety for the Falcons as they enter their version of a spring game Saturday.
For Theil, it means it’s time to produce again.
“In this business, that’s all that matters is production,” secondary coach Chip Vaughn said. “We love everybody, but as coaches we have to play the kids who produce on Saturdays.”
Vaughn, entering his second year, has been impressed by Theil’s development over the two spring sessions and one season he’s had him.
“Grant brings a wealth of knowledge and experience; a great attitude every single day,” Vaughn said. “He is a young man that has grown leaps and bounds from last spring to this spring. Every practice he’s been getting better and better.
“I like where he’s at right now with his growth. It’s just awesome to see a kid when that light bulb goes off and he starts to get it.”
Coach Troy Calhoun said the Falcons will explore different substitutions to utilize the experience in the secondary, including going with five defensive backs in some situations.
He doesn’t see the extra body or two as a surplus. And this hasn’t even accounted for the potential of younger players fighting their way into the mix.
“I think what ends up happening in college football so much is, you look over the course of the season, you need at least three safeties,” Calhoun said. “And three is on the low end.”
Theil has downplayed the competition at the position. He said the group of safeties are “a bunch of my buddies” and the situation has been fun as opposed to tight and intense.
“We’re all here to get a playing spot,” he said.
Away from football, Theil is completing his junior year and preparing to take powered flight over the summer with the intention of aiming for a pilot training spot.
Going the pilot route wasn’t the original intention at the academy for the Jasper, Ind., native, but exposure through the soaring program and chances to take rides in a C-17 and KC-135 while on Air Force ops at Altus Air Force base in Oklahoma were enough of a sample to sway his decision.
In a similar way, Theil just needed those appearances on the field to launch his candidacy for playing time even among a crowded and accomplished group.
It seems that sometimes the most productive way to see what you have is to simply give it a chance.