Tre’ Bugg returns as a starting cornerback for Air Force, but in many ways it seems a new player is stepping into that spot.

Now a junior, Bugg is thicker than the skinny, former three-star recruit who broke into the starting lineup four times last year. But he’s still quick — running a 4.44-second 40-yard dash — and feels better prepared to compete with Mountain West-caliber receivers he’ll often be asked to face in man-to-man coverage.

“I think I’ve definitely matured a lot in the offseason,” said Bugg, who has gained 10 pounds and is now 6-foot, 175 pounds. “I’m in a better mindset and I have a lot more capability to cover those guys.”

While Air Force has seen flux at the other cornerback spot, with junior Elisha Palm currently unseating senior Zane Lewis from his starting position; Bugg’s island has been exclusively his since he started the final three games of the 2018 season.

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“Tre has improved immensely,” coach Troy Calhoun said. “He’s stronger. He’s quicker. He has a better feel for each one of the coverages that we play — where he needs to be alignment-wise. Nobody made greater physical gains than Tre’ did, especially here over the last five months.

“Very competitive. Good length. He’s gotten a little bit stronger, and because of it he’s got a little more twitch and explosiveness, too.”

The secondary as a whole is banking on this kind of improvement. Much has been made of the experience returning on the back of Air Force’s defense, with safeties Jeremy Fejedelem, Garrett Kauppila, James Jones IV, Grant Theil along with Bugg and Lewis bringing loads of experience to each spot. But the Falcons ranked 116th in passing efficiency defense and 93rd in defending on third down; so simply putting the same bodies on the field wasn’t going to be enough.

“We’re really deep in the (secondary) and have a lot of good players ready to compete,” said Bugg, an Arizona native majoring in management. “You’ve always got to be ready to do your best and do everything you can to stay on the field.”

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