Falcons’ quest: Air Force chases MW title, stadium turns 60
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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AP) — The blue-and-white sign leading into Falcon Stadium certainly grabs an opposing team’s attention: “Warning: Lack of oxygen.”
Set at 6,621 feet above sea level, the stadium celebrating its 60th anniversary this season has provided quite a home-field advantage for the Air Force Falcons. That’s especially true in the 15 seasons under coach Troy Calhoun, whose teams have gone 66-23 at the venue located at the base of the Rampart Range of the Rocky Mountains.
Another warning: The Falcons and their version of the option offense boast a strong returning nucleus. The list of returning starters includes fullback Brad Roberts, outside linebacker Vince Sanford and offensive lineman Isaac Cochran, who each earned a spot on the preseason All-Mountain West team. Air Force is predicted to finish second behind Boise State in the Mountain Division of the conference.
Not that Calhoun is buying into the hype.
“You can’t rely upon memory,” Calhoun said. “You’ve got to rely upon the way we have to move forward. It’s a thousand pieces and you’ve got to find out, ’All right, how are we going to make this thing fit together?’”
The Falcons already have plenty of pieces in place. Just look at the early accolades coming their way. Junior offensive lineman Everett Smalley was named to the Outland Trophy watch list, while Sanford found his name mentioned for the Chuck Bednarik and Bronko Nagurski awards. Roberts, who is coming off a 1,352-yard season on a school-record 298 carries, was included on the Walter Camp Award watch list for player of the year.
“Who’s going to emerge? That’s the fun part of it,” Calhoun said. “Especially if you have guys who love to push, love to grind and love to work — and our guys do.”
On Sept. 22, 1962, Air Force opened Falcon Stadium with a 34-0 win over Colorado State. They’ve gone 209-119-4 at the venue that turns 60 this season. Over the years, the stadium has received renovations such as permanent lights installed in 2002 and two new scoreboards prior to the 2016 season. The turf was replaced and the home locker room upgraded before the ’18 season.
There are more plans in place following this season to turn the stadium into a state-of-the-art facility. The blueprints include a new stadium entrance and improvements to seating, concession areas and restrooms. There are also plans to relocate the cadets section.
Since 1984, the Falcons have only had two head coaches — Fisher DeBerry (1984-2006) and Calhoun, who is entering his 16th season. The only other program with just two head coaches over that span is Iowa, according to Air Force research. The Hawkeyes had Hayden Fry (1979-98) and current head coach Kirk Ferentz, who took over before the 1999 season.
Jordan Jackson, currently with the New Orleans Saints, blocked an extra point against Utah State last season. That extended the streak by the special teams, which has blocked at least one kick in each of Calhoun’s 15 seasons. Since 2007, the team has blocked 14 field goals, 19 extra points and 10 punts.
Air Force will be looking to win its first outright Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy since 2016. The annual award goes to the round-robin winner between the service academies.
The Falcons host Navy on Oct. 1 and play Army at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, on Nov. 5.
Air Force opens the season by hosting Northern Iowa of the FCS ranks on Sept. 3. The Falcons follow that up by playing Colorado on Sept. 10. It will be the first team from a Power Five program to play at Falcon Stadium since a 13th-ranked California squad led by Aaron Rodgers beat Air Force 56-14 on Sept. 4, 2004.
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