NCF Nation: Air Force Academy Falcons

Scott Thomas was a star safety at the Air Force Academy, helping lead the Falcons to one of their best seasons in 1985.

Six years later, Thomas was trying to stay alive as a pilot during Desert Storm, after his F-16 jet developed engine problems over Iraq. Thomas safely ejected and was rescued by Army special forces as they took on enemy fire.

A star safety and kick returner for the Falcons, Thomas was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot on Tuesday.

In 1985, Thomas helped guide the Falcons to a 12-1 record and No. 5 ranking in the final coaches' poll. Thomas intercepted six passes, returning one for a touchdown, and also returned a punt and kickoff for scores in 1985. He became the first player in NCAA history to return an interception, punt return and kickoff return for touchdowns in the same season and also had 89 tackles.

Thomas, a native of San Antonio, Texas, capped off his football career by helping the Falcons defeat Texas 24-16 in the Bluebonnet Bowl. He wanted to play football for the Longhorns coming out of John Jay High School. When the Longhorns failed to offer him a scholarship, he accepted an appointment to the Air Force Academy.

Thomas was named All-America in 1985 and also was named MVP of the 1984 Independence Bowl, helping lead Air Force to a 23-7 victory over Virginia Tech. He helped guide the Falcons to a 38-12 record from 1982-85, the best four-year mark in the program's history.

Thomas retired from the Air Force in 2000.
Air Force waited eight long years for an opportunity to receive the Commander-In-Chief Trophy from the president. That wait ended Monday afternoon, when the service academy football players and coach Troy Calhoun were in Washington to receive the coveted hardware.

[+] EnlargeBarack Obama
AP Photo/Evan VucciAir Force defensive back Reggie Rembert presents President Barack Obama with a jersey during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House on Monday.
The Falcons beat Army and Navy in 2010 to wrest the trophy from the Midshipmen, who had won it for seven straight seasons. President Barack Obama hailed the team for its 9-4 season in his brief remarks, saying, in part:

"I want to congratulate the cadets. Until this year, no one on this team knew what it felt like to beat Army, to beat Navy, to visit the White House and to earn football bragging rights over the other branches. Now you know the feeling. They also know what it feels like not just to be a good service academy team, but to be a very good team period. They put up 350 rushing yards against Oklahoma, finished 9-4 after what Coach Calhoun called the toughest schedule the service academy ever played, to cap it all with a bowl win against Georgia Tech. That's impressive.

"Of course, I hear the victory that was sweetest of all was finally beating that Navy team. As soon as the final whistle blew, the loudspeaker started blasting Etta James' "At Last." The entire cadet wing rushed the field and sang the alma mater with the team. This is a group that has a lot to be proud of. Obviously, the most impressive thing about these young men is that being a football player isn't what defines them. They're airmen first and more important than any bowl game and trophy is the commitment they've made to serve this country."


He then recounted the way several players spent this past summer, from working at various bases to trying to organize 7-on-7 drills with teammates left on campus. The team gave the president an Air Force football and No. 23 jersey with his name on it. There is no No. 1 at the Air Force Academy, so they decided on 23 because it is a number the president has worn previously.
On this day we salute veterans everywhere, please take a moment to recognize Northern Illinois defensive end Jake Coffman and his incredible journey.

Coffman, 26, served two tours in Iraq as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps. He enrolled in the service right after high school and advanced to the rank of corporal, serving as an engineer. While there, he set up power grids and communications lines for his unit. Coffman even played a little football at Camp Pendleton, where he was named the 2005 Mike Anderson Defensive Player of the Year.

[+] EnlargeJake Coffman
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesJake Coffman, who served two tours in Iraq with the Marines, has seven tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks for the Huskies.
He walked on at Northern Illinois in 2006 because he loved the game, and was hopeful to get a chance. Coffman has more than done that, emerging as one of its best players on defense.

He always leads the team onto the field carrying an American flag. But on Senior Day this past Tuesday against Toledo, Coffman carried a special flag -- the one his mom flew over their house every day he was in Iraq.

That moment almost didn't happen. After the bowl game last year, Coffman decided to leave the team. Injuries had taken their toll, and he was on pace to graduate in May. After coming out to a few practices in the spring, he realized he couldn't leave his teammates behind.

His father and grandfather told him point blank: "You have always finished everything you have started in life. Why not football?"

Now Coffman is tied for the team lead with seven tackles for loss and has 2.5 sacks. He was selected MAC West Defensive Player of the Week last week after four tackles and an interception in a win over Western Michigan. Northern Illinois needs one more win to clinch a spot in the MAC championship game.

Coffman also is a finalist for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, which honors the loyalty of seniors who give a four-year commitment to their schools, along with their athletic and community achievements.

“Here now, I just appreciate playing the game for what it is,” Coffman told the DeKalb Daily Chronicle earlier this year. “I love football. It’s a big part of my life. I have so much fun playing it. I have fun hanging out with the guys. I try to bring them into the same mindset that I am. I just appreciate it every day, walking out onto the field.”

Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs is also a finalist for the award, and it is only appropriate to honor the players at the service acadamies today, too. Army coach Rich Ellerson, Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo and Air Force coach Troy Calhoun know their players have many more risks ahead, and are playing the game because of their passion.

"I found what ends up happening here is you realize it’s an incredible opportunity just to be a part of college football," Calhoun said several weeks ago. "In our place, these guys aren’t just playing football for the sake of their scholarship. They aren’t playing football to get in a bidding war for a certain agent. They play football because they love the sport and they love the camaraderie that’s part of it and being able to represent the Air Force Academy."

Video: Friday Four Downs

November, 5, 2010
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Andrea Adelson looks at the biggest Non-AQ storylines in Friday Four Downs.

Video: Non-AQ Game of the Week

October, 21, 2010
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Andrea Adelson breaks down her game of the week: Air Force vs. TCU.

Video: Friday Four Downs

October, 1, 2010
10/01/10
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Andrea Adelson looks at the top Non-AQ storylines in Friday Four Downs.



Video: Navy-Air Force preview

September, 30, 2010
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Andrea Adelson looks at Navy-Air Force in her game of the week.

Three-point stance: Rosy outlook

January, 1, 2010
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1. A year ago at the Rose Bowl, we heard USC players complaining about being there for the fourth consecutive year. At the head coaches’ press conference Thursday, both Chip Kelly of Oregon and Jim Tressel of Ohio State sounded almost giddy about the Kickoff Luncheon to be held later in the day, much less the game itself. “I want our players to savor the moment. That’s what it’s all about,” Kelly said. And the next time, I bet the Trojans don’t complain at all.
2. It’s always difficult to figure out which teams will be ready for a bowl. Some lose their timing; others, their motivation. Some see their game as a reward. Others, after a season-ending loss, see it as a disappointment. But none of those issues ever apply to service academies. Navy and Air Force played with discipline and crispness Thursday. They won routs, and no one should be a bit surprised.
3. Oklahoma’s 31-27 victory over Stanford in the Sun Bowl served as a microcosm of the Sooners’ 8-5 season. They dominated the stats, outgaining the Cardinal, 477-262, won the first downs 28-13 and ran 89 offensive plays. Yet Oklahoma won by only four points. Blame 10 points allowed on turnovers and some freshman-like decisions from freshman quarterback Landry Jones. Injuries and inexperience cost Oklahoma this season. The Sooners should return to the top 10 in 2010.

AFA strikes first

November, 7, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

AIR FORCE ACADEMY -- Air Force has struck first with a an 88-yard punt return by Anthony Wright Jr.

Wright broke a few tackles after catching the ball headed right and saw nothing but blue jerseys in front of him. He jogged into the end zone.

The punt return was the second-longest in Academy history and the first punt return for a touchdowns since 1998 against New Mexico.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

AIR FORCE ACADEMY -- The pageantry is starting here at the Air Force Academy.

The cadets are marching out onto the field and the stands are starting to fill up.

Cars are still coming in and I heard from a couple media folks who cover this team regularly this is the most traffic they’ve seen trek into this stadium in quite some time.

The crowd just held a moment of silence for the victims of the Fort Hood shootings before the national anthem was played.

I'm eagerly awaiting the flyover.

As I pointed out in an earlier post, Air Force has dominated this game over the past 20 years, but this will be a tougher test than the Falcons have faced in the past. Army hasn’t really been blown out this season. While some of the scores have been lopsided, the Black Knights have been in almost every game they’ve played and this one should be no different.

“It means a lot to us especially the seniors,” Army receiver Ali Villanueva said. “We’ve tried for four years now and this is our last chance to get it. They’re a great football team, but we obviously have a chance. We have a chance to beat every single team we play on our schedule. It’s a test, a new season for us right now, so we just need to come out and prove to everybody that we can do this.”
Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

AIR FORCE ACADEMY -- I haven’t been to many Air Force football games -- maybe five or so, including a Navy game -- but this is by far the most crowded I’ve ever seen this place.

The stadium isn’t full yet -- still more than an hour until kickoff -- but there’s a ton of tailgating and traffic is backed up to Monument in I-25.

Welcome to the battle for the Commander-in-Chief Trophy.

This is Air Force’s second and final opportunity to at least take a share of the trophy that is fought over by the three military academies. It lost to Navy 16-13 in overtime earlier this year. Army is playing in its first leg and will play against Navy on Dec. 12.

I’m excited for this game for it pageantry. You really throw out the records in this one because both of these teams take great pride in besting each other. Air Force hasn’t lost to Army since 2005 and has won 18 of the past 20 contests.

However, Army has played well in every game it’s been in this season. Yes, the Black Knights are just 3-5, but under new head coach Rich Ellerson, they believe they can win every contest they play.

I’m looking forward to a competitive game and a raucous crowd.

AFA to host 'College GameDay'

October, 29, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson

ESPN's "College GameDay" is coming to Air Force Academy for the Air Force -- Army game on Nov. 7.

Next week’s game will mark the third time "College GameDay" has broadcast from the Academy. The crew was there in 2001 for the Army game and in 2002 for the contest against Notre Dame. "College GameDay" will kickoff a week of programming in conjunction with Veterans Day.

TCU is in a familiar position

October, 10, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson


AIR FORCE ACADEMY -- TCU has dominated its game against Air Force, but it doesn’t have the points on the board to prove it.

Until the Falcons’ big option play by Asher Cark that ultimately led to the Falcons first touchdown, the TCU defense had been a wall. The Falcons had five passing yards and less than 100 yards rushing.

But the offense hasn’t been that dynamic. While the numbers are decent -- 231 total yards -- the Horned Frogs haven’t been able to get into the red zone. When they have gotten into the red zone they’ve converted two of its three opportunities.

This is the second consecutive week the Horned Frogs have had a slow start. Last week, it led just 12-7 at halftime against rival SMU before winning the game 39-14.

The weather is getting colder, it’s starting to mist and the fog is starting to roll in. Several people already have left the game because of the declining temperatures.

TCU takes to the air

October, 10, 2009
10/10/09
8:03
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson


AIR FORCE ACADEMY -- Despite the frigid weather, TCU came out throwing against Air Force. During its first drive, the Horned Frogs had five passes, however that fifth pass was intercepted Andre Morris Jr., at the Air Force 4-yard line.

That interception might have prompted the Horned Frogs to get away from the pass and stick with the run during the second drive. TCU threw just two passes during its second drive, it completed one but the one it completed was a 24-yard pass to the Air Force 3-yard line that ultimately set up the first touchdown of the game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Graham Watson

Air Force opened camp on Monday and several players we're surprised with position changes.

According to the Colorado Springs Gazette, senior Luke Hyder and junior quarterback Ben Cochran both moved to safety.

Hyder played "Z" receiver last season and was a backup tailback on the depth chart heading into fall camp.

Hyder has been floating across the line of scrimmage since he arrived on campus. In 2006, he was a backup tailback and at the start of the 2007 season he was at strong safety. He played in all 13 games as a backup at strong safety.

"There's a chance I bump back over [to offense]," Hyder told the Colorado Springs Gazette. "Our depth at tailback right now is kind of nonexistent. I told coach [Troy Calhoun], I can come over, learn all this and if he wants to throw me back over in two weeks ... it's not something I'd really have to re-learn."

Cochran spent the spring taking first-team reps with Connor Dietz while the two top quarterbacks -- Tim Jefferson and Asher Clark -- missed most of the spring with academics and injuries respectively. However, neither Cochran nor Dietz did enough in the spring to warrant a jump over either Jefferson or Clark.

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