• First Look: UNLV

    Fri, May 30, 2008 by admin with 4 comments

    After looking at defending Mountain West Conference champion BYU in the previous installment of my “First Look” series, I’m looking at the team that finished last in the league in 2007 – UNLV. Scroll down to previous posts to see looks at BYU, Wyoming and New Mexico.

    2007 Record: 2-10, 1-7

    Off/Def Starters Back: 9/5

    Last Year vs. AF: Air Force 31, UNLV 14

    This Year vs. AF: Oct. 18, at UNLV

    Roster Report: The Rebels have nine starters back from their 2007 offense. That offense, however, ranked last in the MWC in scoring and second-to-last in total yards last season.

    Still, there is reason for optimism in experience, and UNLV returns four of five starting offensive linemen, standout Frank Summers (a bowling ball of a running back at 5-foot-10, 240 pounds), and one of the top receiving tandems in the conference – Ryan Wolfe and Casey Flair. There is plenty of depth at receiver behind those two, the question is who will get them the ball. Sophomores-to-be Omar Clayton and Travis Dixon are competing for the top spot after both saw time as freshmen. Dixon started nine games, including the Rebels’ first seven, while Clayton took over as the starter before the eighth game and started three games before going down with an injury.

    Mark Anderson, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s UNLV football beat writer, said on The Mtn.’s Around The Mountain program that Clayton had a better spring game and seemed to have an edge in the competition.

    Several standouts from the 2007 defense are gone, including linebacker Beau Bell, last year’s MWC Defensive Player of the Year. But the Rebels have five starters back.

    Fast Facts: UNLV has won just three of 24 conference games under head coach Mike Sanford. One of those games was in 2006 against Air Force. The Rebels beat the Falcons, 42-39, to snap a 15-game losing streak to Division I programs and hasten the end of the Fisher DeBerry Era.

    What Caught My Eye: Two things. One is a philosophy change on defense. According to Anderson, the Rebels, under new defensive coordinator Dennis Therrell, will play a more aggressive, attacking style and try to cram more bodies into the box to attempt to stop the run. Last season UNLV ranked seventh in the nine-team MWC in rushing yards allowed per game (183.6) and seventh in points allowed per game (28.6).

    The philosophy change intrigued me because it sounds quite similar to the change Air Force made last season when Tim DeRuyter took over as defensive coordinator at the academy. The Falcons had been abysmal on defense immediately prior to DeRuyter’s arrival. And in DeRuyter’s first season they had most of the same players from the porous crews of previous campaigns. But by ditching a bend-but-don’t-break style for an attacking one, the Falcons defense improved considerably. Can UNLV do the same?

    Second thing that caught my eye is four of UNLV’s 10 losses in 2007 came by eight points or less, including the Rebels’ near upset of Wisconsin in the second week of the season. That tells me UNLV has been in position to win some games but just needs to learn how to close the deal. If the Rebels continue to lose close games, that reflects poorly on the coaching. Which leads me to …

    Final Thought: Summers had this to say to the Review-Journal about the 2008 UNLV squad: “We feel we have a great opportunity this year and have a great chance to come out and compete week in and week out with the veteran players that we have. Really, we have no excuses.”

    That includes Sanford. He now has a team that consists almost entirely of players his staff recruited, including plenty of returning starters. So after three straight two-win seasons under Sanford (UNLV has had four overall), the Rebels need to show tangible improvement for Sanford to keep his job. Anderson said UNLV fans have grown weary of the program’s recent ineptitude.

    The Rebels probably need to get to at least five wins for Sanford to be safe. As Summers told the Review-Journal, “Really, it’s like now or never for us.”

    Jake’s Way Early Line vs. AF: Air Force -1.5. If the Falcons are going to become bowl eligible, this is a game they need to win.

  • Coach Kaz

    Wed, May 28, 2008 by admin with 5 comments

    Before I start, congratulations to all the academy seniors who got to throw their caps in the air today.

    I wanted to follow up on my article that appeared in today’s edition of The Gazette on Maj. Mike Kazlausky parting ways with the Air Force baseball team. 

    As I said in the article, some consider this a major blow to the struggling program.  

    Quick background: Kazlausky was one of the best players in academy history and served as an assistant in three separate stints. During his first, from 1993 through 1995, the Falcons had three straight winning seasons. That still stands as the program’s only stretch of three straight winning seasons since it joined a conference in 1981. During his second stint, earlier this decade, the 2002 Air Force squad set a program record for victories over Division I opponents.  

    Kazlausky returned for his third stint prior to the 2007 season. And some believe Kazlausky deserves much of the credit for the Falcons showing some signs of improvement in the recently completed 2008 season. One former player said the improvement would continue only if Kazlausky remained part of the program.

    But now he’s gone. According to sports information director Troy Garnhart, Kazlausky and head coach Mike Hutcheon decided they couldn’t continue their working relationship, so they mutually decided to part ways (shades of the Avalanche and former coach Joel Quenneville).

    Both Kazlausky and Hutcheon declined comment through Garnhart, so speculation about the divorce continues. But it sounds like a personality conflict. Kazlausky is fiery and intense – and maybe Hutcheon thought too much so for an assistant.

    Two more notes on this:

    -A great point about Kazlausky’s departure was made by a reader of this blog. You can see the reader’s whole post in the comments section of my previous blog post (on the academy award winners). The point the reader made that jumped out at me was that now that Kazlausky is gone, there are no baseball coaches who attended/played baseball for the academy.

    As the reader wrote in his comments: “You don’t need to look any further than the football program to understand the benefit of having grads on the coaching staff of the academy’s sports teams.” 

    Couldn’t agree more. And I wish I had pointed out in my story that Kazlausky’s departure leaves the coaching staff without a graduate.

    Having graduates on teams’ coaching staffs is especially important at the academy, where what kids go through is so difficult and so unique. You need someone – like Fisher DeBerry said about football coach Troy Calhoun when Calhoun was hired – who has “walked in the moccasins” of the players. Eight of Calhoun’s assistants went to Air Force and played on the football team – and that’s not by accident. The guys who have been through the academy can much better relate to what the current players are going through, and they have far better credibility when talking to potential recruits. 

    -Speaking of recruits, I got a call from the parent of an incoming baseball player today. The player was recruited by Kazlausky, and – according to the parent – wasn’t even considering coming to the academy until Kazlausky began recruiting him. 

    The parent was concerned – to say the least – that Kazlausky was no longer with the program (something he found out about from my article, by the way, not from a call from anyone at Air Force). He said he envisioned Kazlausky being a “second father” to his son while at the academy. He had yet to tell his son the news that Kazlausky would not be part of the AF baseball staff.

  • Academy Award Winners

    Tue, May 27, 2008 by admin with 4 comments

    Air Force senior football player Chad Hall and senior women’s basketball player Alecia Steele were named the academy’s most valuable male and female athletes, respectively, for the 2007-08 school year.

    Other award winners included senior cross country athlete Kenny Grosselin (scholar-athlete), senior ice hockey player Frank Schiavone (athletic leadership), senior men’s basketball player Tim Anderson (athletic excellence) and senior fencer Peter French (outstanding athletic achievement). The most valuable players for each of the academy teams are listed below.

    Men’s Cross Country: Matt Williams, Jr.

    Women’s Cross Country: Brittany Morreale, Soph.

    Football (Overall): RB/WR/KR Chad Hall, Sr.

    Football (Offense): QB Shaun Carney, Sr.

    Football (Defense): ILB Drew Fowler, Sr.

    Football (Special Teams or Lineman): OLB John Rabold, Sr.

    Men’s Soccer: GK Brian Guyette, Sr.

    Women’s Soccer: D Christin Brodie, Sr.

    Volleyball: OH Kristina Stewart, Jr.

    Water Polo: Justin Berry, Sr.

    Men’s Basketball: G Tim Anderson, Sr.

    Women’s Basketball: F Alecia Steele, Sr.

    Men’s Fencing: Peter French, Soph.

    Women’s Fencing: Collette Bannister, Sr. 

    Men’s Gymnastics: Greg Stine, Sr.

    Women’s Gymnastics: Abbey Rogers, Jr.

    Ice Hockey: G Andrew Volkening, Soph.

    Men’s Swimming: Bryan Avery, Jr. 

    Women’s Swimming: Jane Hwang, Jr.

    Rifle: Tom Chandler, Frosh.

    Wrestling: Jake Kriegbaum, Sr.

    Baseball: P Alex Truesdale, Soph.

    Boxing: Daryn Nelson, Sr.

    Men’s Tennis: Brett Rodgers, Soph.

    Women’s Tennis: Lauren Wilson, Sr.

    Golf: Bob Whitney, Sr.

    Lacrosse: D Lukas Fisher

    Men’s Track & Field: Travis Picou, Sr.

    Men’s Track & Field Outstanding Competitor: Ian McFarland, Sr.

    Women’s Track & Field: Sara Neubauer, Soph.

    Women’s Track & Field Outstanding Competitor: Melissa Beerse, Soph. 

  • First Look: BYU

    Fri, May 23, 2008 by admin with 3 comments

    Here’s the third installment of my “First Look” series. Today I’m taking a quick glance at two-time defending Mountain West Conference champ (and 2008 favorite) BYU. Scroll down to previous posts to see looks at Wyoming and New Mexico.

    2007 Record: 11-2, 8-0

    Off/Def Starters Back: 10/3

    Last Year vs. AF: BYU 31, Air Force 6

    This Year vs. AF: Nov. 15 at Air Force 

    Roster Report: The 2007 BYU offense, which led the MWC in points per game (30.1) and yards per game (442.8), will return virtually intact in 2008. The Cougars have 10 starters back, including all of their skill position players. Lineman Sete Aulai is the only 2007 starter the Cougars lost to graduation.

    Here’s how stacked BYU is at the skill positions: Senior running back Manase Tonga is academically ineligible and will not play in 2008 … and the Cougars likely won’t miss a beat without him. Tonga was BYU’s second-leading rusher and sixth-leading receiver in 2007, and and is regarded, according to an article this spring by Jeff Call of the Deseret Morning News, as one of the Cougars’ top blockers. But BYU returns leading rusher Harvey Unga, who ran for 1,227 yards and earned MWC Freshman of the Year honors in 2007, as well as senior Fui Vakapuna, who is healthy after an injury-plagued 2007. Add in a couple newcomers and Tonga becomes expendable.

    The Cougars also return junior quarterback Max Hall, who earned first-team All-MWC honors last season and – incredibly – picked up right where John Beck (now with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins) left off. Beck has his top four receivers from 2007 back as well as most of his 2007 offensive line.

    The Cougars have some questions on defense, having lost eight starters to graduation, including three of four linebackers and their entire secondary. But head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s specialty is defense, so expect the replacements to make smooth transitions. 

    Fast Facts: During the last two seasons, BYU has gone unbeaten against MWC competition (16-0) and unbeaten in home games (12-0). … The Cougars have won four straight over Air Force by an average of 41.8-21.3. 

    What Caught My Eye: How about the 10 starters back on offense? Ten! Returning starter statistics often can be misleading – what’s the big deal if a bunch of starters return from an offense that was inept? But the Cougars’ offense was the class of the MWC in 2007. Four of the 10 returners (Hall, tight end Dennis Pitta and linemen Ray Feinga and Dallas Reynolds) were first-team All-MWC selections last season. 

    Final Thought: BYU has the talent, experience and schedule to break into the BCS. Stewart Mandel of SI.com said in one of his recent mailbags that “BYU has all the right ingredients” to be the mid-major that earns a bid to a BCS bowl in 2008. Here’s a link to Mandel’s take on the Cougars. It’s definitely worth a look. 

    Jake’s Way Early Line vs. AF: BYU -13.5. Expect the Cougars to extend their winning streak against the Falcons to five games.

  • Offseason Commitment

    Wed, May 21, 2008 by admin with 2 comments

    With the academic year finished and summer set to begin, Air Force’s football team is entering an often overlooked but critical time.

    Unlike at most Division I schools, where football players spend their summers on campus working out, many of Air Force’s players will be spread out across the globe for at least part of their summers. That means players will have to find ways to work out – often in less-than-ideal environments and often without the help or company of teammates. Whether they do or not will have a significant impact on the 2008 season. 

    The key players on last season’s team all were committed during the offseason, and that was a major reason for the Falcons’ success.

    Quarterback Shaun Carney, running back/receiver/returner Chad Hall, guard Caleb Morris and outside linebacker Julian Madrid all went through Academy Flight Screening (AFS), a rigorous program used to evaluate the likelihood that cadets will have success in Specialized Undergraduate Pilot or Navigator Training after graduation. But all managed to push themselves in workouts during their limited free time. Here’s what I wrote last year in a story about roommates Madrid and Hall:

    The program includes 17 flights (about 90 minutes apiece) and many additional hours of studying military-style flight procedures in a classroom setting. It demands six-day weeks with each day starting at 4:45 a.m. and many not ending until the late afternoon.

    That exhausting schedule offered the players the perfect excuse for skipping offseason workouts. But they did not use it as such.

    Since late May, roommates Hall and Madrid have spent four to five hours working out six days a week. Even after 12-hour marathon sessions at the airfield, the pair made it to the gym, track or field to prepare for their senior seasons.

    “We never cut a workout short,” Hall said. “We always did extra – whether it was running or lifting. It’s not fun to do after a long day, but that’s our job.” 

    I also spent some time at Langley AFB last summer with safety Bobby Giannini, who used a parched stretch of grass between dorms to do his conditioning and speed work.

    So here’s the point: Those guys all found ways to get their workouts done during the offseason, they often sacrificed going out or having fun, and they came to preseason bigger, faster and stronger. This year’s group will need similar dedication.

    Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said he talked to his players about that commitment and other offseason obligations about a week-and-a-half ago before they started final exams. “We talked about, number one, you go to the academy, so integrity’s paramount,” he said. “We talked about conduct during the summer when they’re on Ops Air Force or wherever they are, and about the unique self-discipline that’s necessary to continue to develop physically.”

  • Welcome to the New Site

    Mon, May 19, 2008 by admin with 3 comments

    Thanks for visiting The Gazette’s new and (hopefully) improved Air Force sports blog. The blog was moved so it could be attached to The Gazette’s Web Site, which allows us to keep track of the traffic it receives.

     Thanks to everyone who reads the blog and posts comments on it. The comments are extremely helpful. I’ve gotten several story ideas from them, and they have allowed me to keep a pulse on what fans of Air Force are discussing.

     Please feel free to post a comment any time or to shoot me an e-mail at jake.schaller@gazette.com.

    -Jake

  • First Look: Wyoming

    Fri, May 16, 2008 by admin with 6 comments

    I started my blog’s “First Look” series last week with a quick peek at New Mexico (scroll down to take a look at the Lobos).

    I’m going to do these periodically throughout the offseason because there never should be a time when we’re not talking football. (Note: If my father is reading this, I know that’s a double-negative, but I thought it was more fun to write than “we always should be talking football”).

    Anyway, without further ado, here’s a look at the Cowboys:

    2007 Record: 5-7, 2-6
    Off/Def Starters Back: 8/7
    Last Year vs. AF: Air Force 20, Wyoming 12
    This Year vs. AF: Sept. 6 at Wyoming

    Roster Report: The Cowboys bring back eight offensive starters from their 2007 squad, including running back Devin Moore (965 yards, five TDs). Backup running back Wynel Seldon (554 yards, eight TDs) also is back along with – get this – all five starting offensive linemen from 2007: Center Tim Bond (6-foot-4, 300 pounds), guards Russ Arnold (6-4, 290) and Sam Sterner (6-4, 297) and tackles Kyle Howard (6-7, 312) and Ryan Otterson (6-5, 289). Expect Wyoming to make more of a commitment to the run.

    The defense will be tough up front as well with three starters back – tackle John Fletcher (6-6, 280), nose guard Fred Givens (6-0, 301) and end Mitch Unrein (6-4, 270). Also back is senior inside linebacker Ward Dobbs, who led Wyoming and ranked seventh in the Mountain West Conference in 2007 with 8.2 tackles per game.

    The big question for the Cowboys is who will play quarterback. Last year’s starter, Karsten Sween, is back, but he struggled at times in 2007 and he did not lock down the starting role in spring practices. The Cowboys also are struggling to find a replacement for kicker/punter Billy Vinnedge.

    Fast Fact: Wyoming, which lost 12 fumbles and threw 19 interceptions in 2007, ranked last in the MWC and 112th in the NCAA in turnover margin (minus-1.0 per game). The Cowboys committed five turnovers in last season’s loss to Air Force including a fumble that Bobby Giannini returned 85 yards for a game-changing touchdown. Wyoming has to improve in this area if it wants to compete for the MWC crown.

    What Caught My Eye: This is Year Six of the Joe Glenn Era. And I think that ol’ Cowboy Joe officially has to be considered on the hot seat.

    Since the 2004 season when Wyoming beat UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl, the Cowboys have struggled, going 15-20, including 9-15 in the MWC. And two of the last three seasons have been marked by disastrous collapses. In 2005 the Cowboys started 4-1 before losing six straight. Wyoming started 4-1 last season as well, but then lost six of its final seven, including a 50-0 loss to Utah (which was accompanied by Middle-Finger-Gate – Glenn giving Kyle Whittingham a one-fingered salute after the Utes kicked an onsides kick with the game well in hand).

    So, you combine all the returning talent with recent disappointment and I think it equals this: Glenn has to win now.

    Final Thought: If Wyoming can sort out its quarterback situation, it could be a surprise team in the conference. But the Cowboys will be tested with games on the road against BYU, New Mexico, TCU and Tennessee.

    Way Early Line vs. AF: Wyoming -6. The Cowboys get Air Force in Laramie in the second week of the season when Air Force’s neophyte team still will be getting its collective feet wet. This game will be a big-time tone-setter for both teams.

  • More on the Pro Policies

    Fri, May 16, 2008 by admin with 8 comments

    I’ll be a talking about the service academies’ pro policies, and specifically Army’s Alternative Service Option, on TV tonight. I’ll be a guest on College Sports Tonight, a program on CBS College Sports (formerly CSTV). The show will air at 5 (MT) and again at 9.

    Tune in and watch why I write for a living instead of working for a TV network.

  • DeBerry Foundation 5K Run & Walk Saturday

    Fri, May 16, 2008 by admin with 3 comments

    Don’t forget about a great event for a great cause this weekend.

    On Saturday afternoon at 3, the Fisher DeBerry 5K Run and Walk will be held – rain or shine – at America the Beautiful Park. Coach DeBerry will be there along with special guest Rudy Ruettiger – the famous Notre Dame walk-on who inspired the movie Rudy. Coach DeBerry and Rudy will present medals to the top three finishers in each race and age category.

    The registration fee for adults is $20 before 6 p.m. Friday and $25 the day of the race. The fee for children and students is $15 before 6 p.m. Friday and $20 the day of the race. Each participant will receive a t-shirt, and all registrants will be eligible to win raffle prizes and get free tickets to a Colorado Springs Sky Sox game. Food from Chick-fil-A will be provided.

    The event benefits the Colorado Springs FCA, Santa’s Workshop and Young Lives.

  • Rabold Update/Pro Policy Update

    Mon, May 12, 2008 by admin with 10 comments

    According to Air Force coach Troy Calhoun, outside linebacker John Rabold will try out with the Denver Broncos on Thursday.

    Rabold won’t be participating in a mini-camp, like inside linebacker Drew Fowler did with the Detroit Lions and running back/receiver/returner Chad Hall did with the Atlanta Falcons. But it’s at least a chance to show what he can do. Calhoun said if Rabold impresses the Broncos, he could get invited to a camp.

    Here’s a big problem for all Air Force players trying to catch on with NFL teams: With NFL Europe folding, the NFL now allows teams to have only 80 players on their rosters at the start of training camp. There are no additional exemptions. That cut out about eight players on each of the 30 teams and undoubtedly has made teams less likely to invite kids who will have to serve on active duty in the military for two years before getting a chance to play.

    Speaking of that two-year policy …

    David Chu, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, has sent a letter to the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force to clarify the Department of Defense policy regarding officers playing professional sports, Air Force Academy sports information director Troy Garnhart said.

    The policy, issued last August and implemented on Jan. 1, 2008, states officers must serve two years of active duty before applying for excess leave or early release from active duty to pursue a professional sports career.

    But while Air Force and Navy both are following that policy closely, Army players are able to go straight to the NFL as long as they earn a roster spot. Why? In 2005 the Army instituted what it calls its Alternative Service Option Program. It allows graduates who remain on rosters to play professionally and serve as part-time Army recruiters.

    Army basically is saying that program overrules the DoD policy.

    While I don’t know this for sure, I’m guessing Chu’s letter was sent to try to rein in Army – to encourage strongly that Army follow the DoD policy to the letter like Air Force and Navy.

    Army’s policy came under scrutiny after Caleb Campbell, an Army defensive back, was selected in the seventh round of the recent NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions. The selection brought tons of publicity to Campbell and Army. And not all of it was positive.

    Folks at both Air Force and Navy think the rules should be the same for all three service academies. They think Army’s policy gives it a recruiting advantage over its service academy rivals. And many question how Army could justify it. The DoD policy, after all, is extremely clear: You must serve two years of active duty before you play pro ball. As Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk told The Annapolis Capital, “Army has redefined active duty to include playing professional sports.”

    Whether Chu’s letter will cause the Army to alter its policy is uncertain. When I inquired about Army’s policy shortly after the draft, Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a press officer for the department of defense, wrote me an e-mail that stated, in part, “it is up to the Military Departments to interpret and apply that policy.”

    I guess Army could stick by its interpretation and contend playing professional sports while serving as a part-time recruiter constitutes active duty service.

    But even if it does, I don’t think we’ve heard the last of the discussion on this policy.