Looking back, this season will be one of the fondest season-long memories I have of Air Force football.
It may seem odd, or at least an overstatement of recency bias, but hear me out - this year was truly special. While I’ve been witness to plenty of other seasons with Commander in Chief trophies, players with the talent to immediately play in the NFL, and national rankings, the group of players that came together to play a 10-2 season with an upcoming Cheez-It bowl in 2019 will always be one of my favorites.
Sure, it hurt losing to Navy and playing the second half of the season without any real hope of a Mountain West Championship stung, but the stories and personalities that made up the roster made it a team to remember.
Here are a few of my favorite story-lines and memories looking back over this year.
Every season, no matter what team you watch, players will always talk about how hard they worked. They’ll talk about changes in diet, new workouts, and studying film. I always take it with a grain of salt because more often than not, the claims are exaggerated.
At the beginning of this season, we heard a lot of buzz surrounding Tre Bugg. Last season, he recorded 20 tackles in 12 games. He was a recognizable player, but he was a pretty standard, solid Air Force DB. In April, we heard that Tre had put on 10 pounds and was still running a 4.44 - 40 yard dash.
This season, Tre has been an absolute delight to watch. He’s made 34 solo tackles and had three interceptions, one of which earned him the top play on Sportcenter’s top 10. Oh, and this is all over only 11 games, missing one due to injury.
What I love more than anything about Tre’s season is not just the impact he had on making Air Force a top defense. It’s that he’s a perfect example of hard work and dedication to his craft. His choice to commit to being a top DB is the embodiment of walking the walk as a leader. That’s exactly what football and the Academy experience seeks to teach. The best part of all of this is that he’s not done. Tre is just a junior so he still has another off-season to improve and come back for a massive 2020 season.
Air Force vs. Colorado
Nay-sayers will point to the fact that Colorado finished their season 5-7. While this is true, they’re still a Power 5 team. Air Force went into this game as underdogs to revive a rivalry that ended with bad blood in the 1970’s. As a Power 5 team, they have resources and funding that Air Force simply doesn’t have.
Air Force was able to go into Folsom field and pull out a win for the ages to start their campaign as the kings of Colorado.
While Kade Remsberg’s overtime touchdown gave the Falcons the overtime win, it was a total team effort that made this a game for the ages.
Really, this section is kind of an ode to all three quarterbacks. After a revolving door system of starting quarterbacks that was largely a failure last season, Troy Calhoun and Mike Thiessen put the ball in DJ Hammond’s hands and let him lead the offense. He’s done an incredible job and it’s amazing to think that he has another year to play. In these situations, it would be easy to shut down as a backup. It would be understandable for anyone feel like they won’t get their moment to shine, but that simply wasn’t the case.
Not only has Isaiah Sanders been a strong leader with his community service, being named a finalist for the Wuerffel Trophy, the William Campbell Trophy, and Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year, but he’s also maintained his role as a strong backup while preparing his package for a Rhodes Scholarship and completing interviews.
Mike Schmidt, on the other hand, had an incredible moment to shine this year. He was named the backup going into the Air Force game against Hawaii when Isaiah Sanders went down with a leg injury. His humble attitude was apparent in his interview and he focused on being a part of the team and doing anything he could to help the team win.
When DJ Hammond also went down with an injury against Hawaii, Mike Schmidt rose to the occasion. He ran for 120 yards, 3 touchdowns, and passed 5/6 for 147 yards, including a 75 yard pass to Geraud Sanders. After the game, he resumed his role behind the healthy DJ Hammond, but that will always be an incredible game to remember. It’s indicative of the culture the team has built around themselves of playing for your brothers and always being ready when you’re needed.
733 yards and 6 touchdowns would be enough to make a great season as it stands for an Air Force running back. That’s exactly what Taven did. Yet another story surrounded Taven this season. His father was released from prison after 20 years and was able to watch Taven play for the first time. You can read the story here,
Taven was a big part of the Air Force offense, so knowing that he would be able to play in front of his father during his senior season is just awesome.
One Last Ride
Really, every player was incredibly noteworthy. Mo Fifita, Jordan Jackson, Duvall Jackson, Garrett Kauppila, Jeremy Fejedelem, Jake Koehnke, Demonte Meeks, and on and on. I can’t remember a time when this many players were headline stories in and of themselves. A 10-2 record is something to be proud of, but I believe that the talent on this team was at the level to have done even better. Air Force has earned their national ranking and the spot in the Cheez It Bowl, so no matter what happens against Washington State, I’ll be watching with a smile as one of my favorite Air Force teams of all time takes the field for one last ride.