Just before signing day, the phone rang for Parker Ferguson. The message was one no recruit wants to hear.
Air Force was filled up at his position. There wasn’t going to be a spot for the defensive lineman.
But, his recruiting coach, Ron Vanderlinden, asked, would he be willing to switch sides?
“I’ll play offense,” Ferguson recalls saying. “Whatever I’ve got to do, I’ll do it.”
About 15 months after arriving for basic training, Ferguson was in the starting lineup for Air Force in the third game of his sophomore year at his new position.
“I think really the main thing with me is I came in with a blank slate and took in all the coaching I could,” Ferguson said. “I didn’t have any bad habits from high school or techniques I had to break or anything like that. I was fresh and I just focused on trying to be as athletic as I could possibly be when I showed up here and just let the coaches mold me into how they needed me to play.”
The athleticism helped. The left tackle doubled as a basketball player in high school and ran a 4.85 40-yard dash. He had played tight end for a while as well. In Ohio’s 6A playoffs as a senior he intercepted a pass one-handed and returned it for a touchdown.
Nolan Laufenberg’s path to the Falcon’s offensive line followed a much straighter line. And from just up the road, too.
Laufenberg was a two-way lineman at Castle View High School about 35 miles north of the academy — so close that Air Force held its spring game in town in 2017 — but paid little attention to the Falcons before they contacted him.
“They offered me at the end of my junior year,” the left guard said. “I couldn’t deny the opportunities it offered.”
Laufenberg was also a versatile athlete, batting .273 with 18 RBIs in 47 baseball games in high school while also pitching 62⅔ innings in 19 appearances.
Also, like Ferguson, who has aspirations to attend law school, Laufenberg has excelled in school and plans on serving as an acquisitions officer. He may have considered flying, but a color deficiency disqualified him.
Being strong students prevented Ferguson and Laufenberg from spending a year at the prep school, but they made do.
The 6-foot-3 Laufenberg shot from 285 pounds as a freshman to 310 entering his junior year.
Ferguson jumped from 260 to just over 300, though offensive line coach Steed Lobotzke wants to thin him out just a bit to recapture some of the athleticism he initially brought as a converted defensive lineman.
Cutting weight is a rare problem for Air Force to have on its traditionally undersized line.
“They’re smart,” Lobotzke said. “The biggest thing is they’re willing to ask for help. ‘What do I have to do to get bigger? What do I need to do to get stronger?’ They ask for help and advice, then they follow the advice and next thing you know they’re in the starting lineup. They’ve got gifts, of course. They’ve got natural talent. But talent’s not enough anymore in college football. It takes talent and it takes work ethic and the humility to go ask somebody for help.
“They’ve got all those intangibles.”
Ferguson started the final 10 games last year, while Laufenberg started nine of 10 in that stretch. By the final three games, Air Force was averaging 411 rushing yards per game and possessing the ball for more than 37 minutes per contest.
The sophomore pair initially played as part of a rotation, but, in some games, Lobotzke stuck with them for 100% of the offensive snaps.
“They made a lot of strides and headway,” coach Troy Calhoun said. “Those last four games were good for them.
“They’re going to be better this year.”
Ferguson hopes to play a little faster with a little less weight and an extra season of learning the position.
Laufenberg said he’s made gains in the weight room to correspond with his added weight and can feel it particularly when getting a push in run blocking.
“He looks stronger to me,” Lobotzke said. “I really have high hopes for what he can do.”
The Falcons lost only one of five starters on the line in Griffin Landrum. Ferguson (tackle) and Laufenberg (guard) are back on the left side. Seniors Connor Vikupitz and Christopher Mitchell return to battle for time at center.
Junior Kyle Krepsz didn’t start a game as a sophomore but made seven appearances and is set to replace Landrum at right guard. Senior Scott Hattok started all 12 games at right tackle.
Several others, including Wolfgang Rehbock, Colin Marquez and Adam Jewell, could also earn playing time.
It’s a seasoned line. And it’s where Ferguson wants to be.
“I think I like the offensive line the best,” Ferguson said. “It’s the brotherhood part. There are no egos. Everyone’s doing their job; kind of the unsung guys type of thing. I like it that way. I don’t need my name called. I just like playing football.”