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AFA needs to look ahead 

End Zone

Funny how some conversations never fade from memory, even many years later. Here's an example from the last week of December 1985, just a short 27 years ago.

Air Force's football team was in Houston, preparing to face the Texas Longhorns in the old Bluebonnet Bowl at Rice Stadium. That AFA team had gone 11-1 and just missed out on the Sugar Bowl after a narrow late-season loss at Brigham Young.

Fisher DeBerry, the Falcons' ever-quotable head coach, was asked about the few freshmen brought along on that bowl trip. One of them was a skinny quarterback from Oregon named Nathan Calhoun. (Nobody at the time knew enough to realize that he went by his middle name, Troy.) There was no way Calhoun would ever play against Texas, because Air Force had two excellent senior quarterbacks in Bart Weiss and Brian Knorr.

"Yeah, but this is still a great experience for freshmen like that Calhoun," DeBerry said. "I'm telling ya, that Nate is one of the smartest kids I've ever seen. He already knows our offense as well as anybody. He's got a very, very, very bright future."

As it turned out, unfortunately, Calhoun was a lot quicker in the brain than in his legs. A swift youngster named Dee Dowis arrived at Air Force the next year, got some chances to play even as a freshman, and eventually became the most prolific running quarterback in AFA history. Calhoun was considered part of the coaching staff before he even graduated, and came back much later, in 2007, to replace DeBerry as head coach.

The point is, at Air Force, football coaches never can forget about the future. When they see a potential standout (especially at quarterback) for years ahead, it's never too early to give that player a chance. That's why Calhoun went with Tim Jefferson as a freshman in 2008, a move that helped the Falcons reach four straight bowl games.

We could go back all the way to 1980, when coach Ken Hatfield trusted in a freshman named Marty Louthan to pull out a last-minute win over Navy (Louthan went on to produce the first two AFA bowl victories in 1982 and 1983), or even 1976, when coach Ben Martin gambled on freshman Dave Ziebart and won late-season upsets over Arizona State and Wyoming.

All this leads us to now, with Air Force struggling at 5-5. Senior quarterback Connor Dietz has provided some bright moments, and the Falcons still could slip into a bowl if they can defeat either Hawaii this week or (less likely) Fresno State on Nov. 24. But Dietz also appears to be wearing down, with a handful of costly turnovers in the most recent losses to Army and San Diego State.

This is a not-so-subtle nudge to Calhoun, who surely must be ready to give more time in these last two games to Dietz's backup, promising sophomore Kale Pearson. Actually, Pearson played some in the fourth quarter at San Diego State, before senior reserve Tucker Tipton finished the game.

The fleet Pearson already has scored the winning touchdown at Wyoming, when Dietz had to come out for a play. And it's evident that, barring another Dowis-type arrival among next year's freshmen, Pearson will have the first shot for 2013.

So why not give Pearson more of a chance now? Perhaps let him alternate series with Dietz this Friday night against Hawaii, then next week at Fresno and possibly a bowl game (New Mexico or Hawaii). There's no reason to give up on Dietz, who has earned a chance to go out on a high note. But Pearson could share the load, and that might be better for both of them. As the Falcons have done a few times this year, those two can even line up in the same backfield, with Pearson technically at tailback but capable of doing more than that.

More than a few times in Air Force's history, being able to use a quarterback with fresher legs in November has paid off, and it could again.

Not just for later, but even now.

routon@csindy.com

  • At Air Force, football coaches never can forget about the future.

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