Air Force will honor a deep class of seniors in the home finale on Saturday. Here are highlights from some members of that class (listed in alphabetical order):
Taven Birdow, fullback
Patient through a career that has seen him frequently move in and out of a starting role, he’s picked up 1,334 rushing yards (No. 39 in team history) and has gone over 100 rushing yards in a pair of games this season.
Nolan Eriksen, tailback
Internal competition and injuries prevented him from ever fully seizing a spot in the backfield, but he’s been a key part of the team’s depth for three seasons (including now, as the No. 2 tailback) and has 67 career carries for 268 yards and three touchdowns.
Jeremy Fejedelem, safety
A starter at cornerback as a sophomore and safety the past two years and a preseason first-team All-Mountain West selection, his 201 career tackles are the most on the team.
Mosese Fifita, nose guard
A fixture in the middle of Air Force’s defense for three years, Fifita is a nominee for Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year. He leads team defensive linemen with 38 tackles, ranks fifth nationally with three fumble recoveries and will play in the Hula Bowl all-star game following the season.
Scott Hattok, offensive tackle
A two-year starter and team captain who has played in 34 career games, the right tackle has been Air Force’s only offensive lineman to start every game this season at the same position. He has accepted an invitation to play in the NFL Players Association Bowl, a showcase for pro scouts that was instrumental in helping long snapper Austin Cutting gain exposure last year before being drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.
Kyle Johnson, linebacker
Named the Charlotte Touchdown Club Defender of the year for achievements on and off the field, he ranks second on the team this season with 69 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception he returned for a touchdown. His 144 career tackles rank second in the class.
Garrett Kauppila, safety
An Academic All-American who will graduate in December, he ranks fifth on the team with 43 tackles. Despite a long list of injuries that include broken bones in each of the past three seasons, he ranks fourth in the class with 93 career tackles.
Jake Koehnke, kicker
A Lou Groza Award semifinalist, he’s 10 of 10 on field goal attempts this year as one of five kickers nationally to be perfect in that category. Hit a long of 57 yards against Utah State, the sixth-longest in school history. His 19-of-22 career mark (84.6%) places him second in school history.
Jake Ksiazek, defensive end
A versatile defender who had provided depth at outside linebacker and defensive line, he broke out in a victory against Colorado State this season when he had three sacks with two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery and earned Mountain West defensive player of the week honors.
Zane Lewis, cornerback
His 13 pass breakups rank second in the Mountain West, while he added his second career 99-yard interception return for a touchdown this season.
Christian Mallard, fullback
A converted tailback, making the move during his junior year, he’s played in 17 games and rushed for 221 yards – including 157 this season with three touchdowns and a 5.7 per-carry average.
Christopher Mitchell, center
After splitting time as a junior and again early in his junior year, Mitchell took over the center position after Connor Vikupitz slid to guard. Mitchell has appeared in 25 career games with 11 starts.
Geraud Sanders, wide receiver
He seized the chance to finally be a full-time starter and is on the verge of posting the best receiving season for an Air Force player not named Ernie Jennings or Jalen Robinette. His 25.5 yards per catch lead the nation, while he’s amassed 28 catches for 713 yards and seven touchdowns.
Isaiah Sanders, quarterback
His starts against Utah State in 2016 and UNLV in 2017 produced victories and some of the most spectacular QB play the Falcons have seen in recent years, but it’s away from the field where this potential Rhodes scholar has earned national acclaim for academics, leadership and service.
Mike Schmidt, quarterback
He jumped from No. 3 on the depth chart to Mountain West player of the week in a 56-26 victory at Hawaii this season when he entered in relief and completed five of six passes for 147 yards and a touchdown while running for 120 yards and three scores.
Grant Theil, defensive back
He’s played in all 11 games while starting at three positions in the defensive secondary this year, posting 41 tackles (sixth on the team) and four pass breakups — including one that bounced off his body and led to a 92-yard score for teammate Milton Bugg III that made the rounds on national highlight shows.
Connor Vikupitz, guard
An All-Mountain West candidate who has started all 11 games this season (the first five at guard, the past six at right guard), he’s started 18 games in his career, appearing in 22.
Kade Waguespack, tight end
He started 24 games, including all 12 as a junior and the first seven this season, before a knee injury suffered on a reception at Hawaii sidelined him. Has 16 catches for 267 yards and three touchdowns in his career.
Eric Ward, defensive back
A longtime special teams contributor, Ward moved into the starting lineup at Hawaii and made six solo tackles. He’s appeared in 10 games this season, making 10 tackles with two pass breakups.
Ben Waters, slot receiver
After shuffling between offense and defense for three years, appearing only on special teams, Waters has emerged with a big-play season that includes 17 catches for 546 yards and six touchdowns. His 32.1 yards per catch would currently set a program record (min. 10 catches), but he doesn’t meet the two-receptions-per-game threshold to qualify on the national leaderboard in that category.
Jared Bair, defensive tackle; Lesley Dalger, tight end; Christopher Musselman, linebacker; Price Morgan, linebacker; Colton Parton, fullback; Nathan King, outside linebacker; Colin Marquez, guard; Charlie Scott, punter; Elijah Woolum, offensive tackle; Rhett Myers, tight end
BRENT BRIGGEMAN, The Gazette