Air Force motto: No pessimism allowed 

click to enlarge Shea Smith filled in well for injured Shaun Carney at - Falcons bowl game. - MIKE KAPLAN/DENMAR
  • Mike Kaplan/DenMar
  • Shea Smith filled in well for injured Shaun Carney at Falcons bowl game.
Troy Calhoun knows he doesn't have to worry about inflated expectations from Air Force's football fans going into the 2008 season. Calhoun also knows that, entering his second year as Air Force's head coach, his honeymoon still hasn't ended, thanks to that rewarding 9-4 record in 2007.

If this were almost any other situation, Calhoun would be dealing with insatiable fans wanting more success, right now. But this isn't like other situations, and Calhoun isn't like other coaches.

Even before the first preseason workout, he was accepting the fact that prognosticators are placing Air Force toward the bottom of the Mountain West Conference. He understands why outsiders can't envision a repeat of last year, after losing a special senior class led by four-year starting quarterback Shaun Carney, record-setting tailback Chad Hall, linebackers Drew Fowler and John Rabold, plus defensive backs Bobby Giannini and Carson Bird.

With so many to replace, if others want to assume Air Force will go 5-7 or 4-8 just as they assumed last year, by the way that's fine with Calhoun. But the head coach isn't joining that chorus of naysayers. He's won't concede anything. Instead, he wants fans to remember a name from Air Force's past: Rob Perez.

In 1990, everyone wondered how the Falcons could replace quarterback Dee Dowis, who set all kinds of records and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. His replacement wound up being Perez, who was much slower and had no experience. Yet Perez guided the Falcons to records of 7-5 and 10-3 in 1990-91, including Liberty Bowl wins over Ohio State and Mississippi State.

"We've got some guys now who are the same as in the past. They've waited for their chance, and this is it," Calhoun says.

The top quarterbacks going into preseason are two Texans: junior Eric Herbort of Fredericksburg and senior Shea Smith of Odessa (in fact, the famous Odessa Permian of Friday Night Lights fame). Smith stepped in capably when Carney blew out a knee during the Armed Forces Bowl last Dec. 31 against California, but Herbort the JV quarterback last year hasn't played a down.

Calhoun isn't coddling his quarterbacks as they develop. They'll have the entire offense at their disposal, with all the motion, formations and no-huddle elements.

"We have to put it all in," Calhoun says. "We can't just line up in the "I' and hand off to the tailback. Obviously it's different this year because we don't have a returning starter like Shaun, who had played in so many games. But these guys know what we're doing."

Certainly, the Falcons are a long way from another big season, facing the likes of Brigham Young, TCU, Utah and Navy. But they have experience in both lines, a major building block for past AFA teams.

How far can the Falcons go? Let's put it this way: If you told Calhoun today that Air Force could win the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy and make it to a bowl game in 2008, he'd probably take that.

Is that too much to expect? Perhaps, but then, so was 9-4 a year ago.



Tough farewell We knew it was coming, but Denver receiver Rod Smith's retirement still is a sad occasion. His leadership will be missed as much as anything.

Guests of honor Air Force will be the opening opponent for Big Ten program Minnesota at its new football stadium in September 2009 at Minneapolis.

See the headline? Top U.S. gymnast Paul Hamm's hand injury has sidelined him from the Olympics, giving three alternates including local resident-athlete David Durante a final shot to make the team.

If you don't go Watch the U.S. Senior Open, Thursday and Friday on ESPN, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday on NBC, 1-4 p.m.


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