ESPN.com columnist (and Air Academy grad) Pat Forde breaks down and picks the winner of all the bowl games. He likes Houston to edge Air Force.
I wrote for today’s edition of The Gazette about senior guard Peter Lusk.
Lusk will play in his 39th game and make his 29th start when Air Force faces Houston in the Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 31. As is the case for most offensive linemen, Lusk has done much of his work without attention or accolades. But his play has been appreciated by Air Force coach Troy Calhoun.
“He’s such a stud,” Calhoun said. “He’s just an awesome kid.”
Lusk is Calhoun’s kind of player because he rarely makes mistakes.
“He was extremely dependable, and he was smart – football smart,” Calhoun said. “I think you’ve got to be bright to come here in the first place. But guys you can tell football means a lot to them are guys that don’t make a whole lot of repeat mistakes. He’s a rock.”
A few odds and ends from today’s football practice …
-After about six months, Savier Stephens finally has lifted his self-imposed media ban.
The junior running back decided last spring to refrain from talking to the press because “he hadn’t done anything yet.” And, despite some fairly good outings during the regular season, he continued to decline interview requests from reporters.
But today after practice, Stephens waited until I’d finished an interview so he could tell me he was ready to start talking again.
I, of course, joked that I was now not talking to him, which got a laugh from him. But I was curious what brought on the change of heart. It wasn’t that Stephens felt he’d “done anything,” he said, but he did say he felt like he’d “changed some things.”
“I feel like last year I was playing for the wrong reasons – as far as the center-of-attention-type things,” he said. “I don’t want to say playing selfish, but it affected my performance. This year I don’t feel like I did much better, but my head was in the right place, so I felt like I was out here for the right reasons.
“I just wanted to feel like I’m not just dead weight,” he continued. “I expected more. I felt I had potential but I wasn’t producing. This year, if you look just blocking-wise and whatnot, and I did have some carries – I didn’t get as many as I would have liked – but I feel like I did better on the whole, mentally and physically.”
So is Stephens ready for a big senior year?
“Yes,” he said. “I’m gonna try to keep the same mindset, so hopefully I won’t not talk to y’all (reporters) and just play for the right reasons. I’m just out here for my brothers. I’m going to be a fighter pilot that serves my country, not an NFL player, realistically, so I just have to be out here for the right reasons.”
Pretty cool to hear that.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said Stephens had “a solid year,” and added that “just as a young man, it’s been awesome to see how much he’s been able to grow as a person.”
-Senior strong safety Chris Thomas will play in the East-West Shrine Game, a postseason all-star game, on Jan. 23 at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orland, Fla. (See the rosters here).
The Shrine Game is the oldest of such games, having been played since 1925.
Thomas was the lone Air Force senior selected to play in a postseason all-star game. Thought the Falcons should have had more guys picked. Ben Garland should have been a no-brainer.
-One other thing on Thomas – he walked off the practice field today with blood running down his face.
Not an uncommon sight. So I asked Calhoun if Thomas ever has left a practice without blood on his face.
“Only a few,” Calhoun said. “That’s when you know the world is in the right kind of balance – whenever Thomas is bleeding.”
-Today’s practice was the Falcons’ last until Dec. 26, when they reconvene in Fort Worth. Calhoun said his players needed some time off, especially after final exams and a full semester of work. But while a few days off “will be healthy for them,” Calhoun said players have to continue to work out.
“They’ve got to lift, they’ve got to get out and do some aerobic activity and then be ready to work when we get there,” Calhoun said.
-Sophomore quarterback Connor Dietz and junior slot receiver Kyle Halderman both practiced in red jerseys today.
“They’ve been able to move physically,” Calhoun said. “Dietz has been able to throw, and he should be completely cleared when we go down there (to Fort Worth). What I think will be important for all those guys, but certainly those two, will be what they do here in the next 10 days.”
Off to Air Force’s last football practice before the team reconvenes in Fort Worth.
Would like to thank everyone who participated in yesterday’s on-line chat with Troy Calhoun (here’s a transcript). Hopefully we’ll be able to do another one with him and perhaps, at some point, some other Air Force coaches.
Switching gears to hoops, the Falcons have had some bad luck with injuries this season. Air Force likely will be without leading scorer Grant Parker for the second straight game on Saturday (against Northern Arizona), and sophomore center Sammy Schafer will be out for the sixth game in a row.
Schafer still is having headaches because of a concussion he suffered around Thanksgiving, which is worrisome. Air Force coach Jeff Reynolds said it was Schafer’s first concussion at the academy but that he’d had some history of concussions in high school.
Have a question for Air Force football coach Troy Calhoun? The coach will take questions during an on-line chat on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. Visit Gazette.com and look for the link to the chat.
You can have a reminder e-mail about the chat sent to you by signing up for one at this link.
The Air Force men’s basketball team lost at Washington State this afternoon, 75-68.
The Falcons played without leading scorer Grant Parker, who was out with a strained groin. Freshman Michael Lyons led Air Force with a career-high 25 points in a breakout performance.
Air Force was within two, 57-55, with less than seven minutes to play.
I got to vote for the Heisman Trophy this season.
It was an honor – something pretty cool for a guy who’s passionate about college football and has watched it for years and years.
So I put a ton of thought into my choice – and that was especially necessary this season with plenty of players who could make a case for the award.
I studied potential candidates, watched as many games as I could and read as much as I could. I argued the merits of candidates with my buddies who watch tons of college football both for a living and a hobby. And I even asked some coaches without a dog in the fight for their opinions (something I used to do all the time when picking all-county and all-met teams as a prep sports reporter).
I struggled with it, sweated it and adjusted my ballot numerous times. But then late Monday morning, just a few hours before my ballot was due, I reminded myself that this was a simple task. Throw out all the hype, the discussions about who “deserves” it and who had a “Heisman Moment,” and just pick the best collegiate player.
Once I thought about it that way, the choice seemed pretty simple. It was a boy named Suh.
Nebraska nose guard Ndamukong Suh was the best player in college football this season. Not just because of what he did against Texas – dominating the game and leading the Cornhuskers to the brink of an upset (which would have thrown the BCS into chaos). It was what he did all season. He changed the way teams played against Nebraska and he changed the way Nebraska played defense (allowing the Cornhuskers to play nickel and dime almost exclusively).
So here’s my official ballot. I only submitted the top three (that’s all the Heisman asks for – top choices receive three points, second choices two points and third choices one point), but I thought I’d put my top five up there because there were some pretty deserving candidates.
1. Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska)
2. Toby Gerhart (Stanford)
3. Mark Ingram (Alabama)
4. C.J. Spiller (Clemson)
5. Golden Tate (Notre Dame)
The Air Force men’s hoops team has by far its biggest challenge of the season tonight against Washington State. Here are 3 Things to Watch in the game, and an article I wrote that looks at a new wrinkle the Falcons have added to their style of play this season.
Also, the Falcons’ hockey team skated to a 3-3 tie with Mercyhurst.
Some football notes for a Friday …
-Air Force returned to practice today and began installing its game plan for the Armed Forces Bowl.
The Falcons will face Houston on Dec. 31 at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said his team actually started working a bit on Houston last Saturday in anticipation that the Cougars would be their bowl opponent.
“We thought it was a little bit of a coin flip,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun said right now the Falcons have “too much” installed at this point and will “pare it down” once the coaches figure out what schemes they think will work best and which ones the Falcons can best execute.
-Sophomore quarterback Tim Jefferson practiced and, like last weekend, showed no ill effects of the bruised ribs he suffered in the Falcons’ season finale at BYU on Nov. 21.
-Sophomore quarterback Connor Dietz, who missed the Falcons’ last four regular season games with a broken bone in his right (throwing) hand, was at practice without a cast on the hand. He didn’t participate in full-speed drills but did some throwing on the side.
“He’s coming along,” Calhoun said.
When asked what Dietz had to show him in practice to be considered ready to play in the bowl, Calhoun said: “Just practice consistently. Be firm enough in practice and fast enough and be able to handle the ball consistently enough. If he can get to that point, then, yeah, you’d consider it, but he’s got to be to that point. But he’s still got a little time too.”
-Freshman outside linebacker Alex Means (foot) will not play in the bowl. “We just want to make sure he can do all of his work in the winter in the weight room and then be able to go through spring ball,” Calhoun said. “He’s a guy that really, really needs spring ball.”
-Junior slot receiver Kyle Halderman (knee) still is questionable for the bowl game.
-I mean, I guess the No. 1 pass offense vs. No. 1 pass defense matchup makes the Armed Forces Bowl fairly intriguing. But this intriguing? Pete Fiutak of FoxSports.com ranks the bowls from worst to first. And you won’t believe where he has Air Force-Houston. (Note: He does write that Air Force beat Houston last season in the Armed Forces Bowl).
-Coming tomorrow: My Heisman ballot.