In three years at Air Force Jared Bair has logged roughly eight snaps, all coming during mop-up time in season-opening blowout victories.
Now, as a senior, he’s suddenly working with the first-team defense and in line — during the first week of practice, at least — to start at defensive tackle.
“I love it,” coach Troy Calhoun gushed.
“It’s what a football program is supposed to be all about. Guys that pay a price, that persevere; guys who never lose sight of the long haul.
“He’s what embodies your program.”
The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Bair arrived as one of 12 defensive linemen in his class. That group is now down to two — Bair and returning starter Mosese Fifita.
“I don’t think a lot of people would have picked me to be one of the last two here,” Bair said.
But the player Bair was three years ago as he emerged from basic training weighing 220 pounds isn’t the one he is now as he vies for a spot up front with the 330-pound Fifita at nose guard and all-Mountain West preseason pick Jordan Jackson at the end.
“There were a lot of guys who didn’t put the time in, but Jared stuck with it,” Fifita said.
“I consider him a veteran just as much as me and Jordan. He’s a senior. And maybe he didn’t play, but full-speed reps translate into games.”
Bair had his weight up to about 245 pounds by his sophomore year and feels he’s added good mass this year, though it didn’t come easy.
“It’s definitely a challenge for me to keep weight on and keep getting bigger,” said the economics major who has aspirations to fly in the Air Force.
“I feel like I have to eat until I puke all the time.”
The lack of game experience doesn’t concern Air Force coaches, who knew they’d be in this position after losing seniors Micah Capra, Danny Highland, Cody Gessler and Ben Harris from the defensive line.
“We keep putting him in stressful positions to see how he responds,” defensive line coach Terrance Jamison said.
Jamison praised Bair’s consistency at holding his point against the run as his strongest asset and being in the right spot against the pass.
Juniors Kolby Barker, Kaleb Nunez, Michael Purcell and Joey Woodring, as well as sophomore Chris Herrera also figure to compete with Bair for playing time.
But the Troy, Ohio, native who chose Air Force over several FCS and Division II offers has monopolized reps with the starting unit through spring and the start of fall practice.
“The neat thing as a coach is to see that development,” defensive coordinator John Rudzinski said.
“He’s strong and smart, and athletically it’s amazing to see how he’s matured since his freshman year.
“It’s neat to see a senior embrace that role and get that opportunity, finally.”
“It’s really exciting to be in the fold,” he said, “and really feel like part of the mix.”