You can call it the Nathan Pine effect, optimistic excitement for the new season, or even Troy Calhoun switching up his media relation methods, but Air Force football seems to really be working to craft some interesting story lines for the team this season. In naming five players to watch, truly the most difficult task is keeping the list limited to only five. Seasoned players like Geraud Sanders, Kadin Remsberg, and Lakota Wills will be fun to watch and will certainly be critical keys to the field, but I’m especially excited to see the players who made the most of their off-season. So here are five players to watch:
His improvement was noted by Brent Briggeman of the Colorado Springs Gazette, but it’s worth reiterating that Milton Tre Bugg is primed to make a huge impact as a cornerback this season. He’s put on ten pounds since last season, an impressive feat, considering the fact that the military training requirements and the Academy’s nutrition program aren’t conducive to putting on lean mass easily. The DB competition in general has been more difficult this season than it has been in past years with discussions of Zane Lewis, a 2018 starter who seemingly had the opposing cornerback position locked up, being beaten for the job by junior Elijah Palm. Tre recorded 20 total tackles in 2018 in 12 games, which made him a modest producer on the defense, but I suspect we will see big things from him this season.
I was almost hesitant to name nose guard Mo Fifita as a player you should watch. After all, noticing his impact on the field doesn’t require much of an effort. It’s a certainty that if Mo Fifita is playing, he’s making a push to the backfield and breaking up runs. Fans and media outlets alike have been amazed by his size and agility for the last few years, but he’s much more than just a big player. With 25 tackles last season and 3 quarterback hurries, Mo is a disruptive force for the Falcons, and he was placed on the watch list for the 2019 Polynesian College Football Player of the Year, named by the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame.
At 6’5” and 282 pounds, I have to be truly honest and wonder how Jordan Jackson slipped through the recruiting coaches at the power five level. Granted, he was smaller as a recruit, and he did earn offers from Appalachian State, Columbia, Tulane, and others, but Jackson had developed extremely well and looks to follow up an impressive sophomore season as a D-lineman with 54 total tackles, 12.5 of which were for a loss totaling 60 yards. He was named Second Team All-Mountain West in 2018 and First Team Pre-season All-Mountain West.
Air Force has always had effective kickers, but especially in the past few years. Will Conant, class of 2015, has the all time highest career field goal percentage at Air Force with 88.2% and Luke Strebel, class of 2017, is second at 85.4%. In 2018, Jake Koehnke was called to the started job after Matthew Philichi was sidelined by injury, but he was able to make 9 of 12 field goals and he was 8 for 8 on field goals under 40 yards. I think Jake Koehnke is a player to watch because of the relative difficulty of Air Force’s schedule. Colorado, Boise State, Fresno State, playing Navy at Annapolis, and Army will all be tough opponents. With three losses decided by 4 points or less last season, Koehnke will be absolutely critical to Air Force’s success and efforts to win back the CiC and play in a bowl game.
Ben Peterson makes the list because he’s intriguing. Air Force’s wide receiver corps is arguably the least established position unit on the depth chart, but there is potential for some solid talent. Ben Peterson played six games without any offensive statistics, but he was credited with a special teams tackle. He was listed as a running back, but now sits at number one on the depth chart as a wide receiver along with Geraud Sanders. So far he has won the job over sophomore Brandon Lewis, who had some experience in four games as a wide receiver with some decent statistics. At 5’8” and 175 pounds, he doesn’t quite fit the mold of typical wide receiver, but given everything we know about him, I’m really interested to see what it is that has earned him the starting job after switching positions. It would be lazy of me to liken Ben to Cole Beasley or Julian Edelman, but I can’t help it. It’s an exciting prospect that gives Donald Hammond or Isaiah Sanders another weapon downfield.
It’s really hard not to just tell you that every player on the Falcons is a player to watch this season, but they truly are. This is one of the most interesting teams Air Force has had in recent memory. There’s so much depth at different positions and even the majority of second string players could easily have highlight seasons. These five players will be the most interesting to watch for me, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg.