Falcons have everything to prove this football season

  • Published
  • By Wayne Amann
  • U.S Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Unlike previous seasons, the 2007 Air Force football team has no catchy slogan it will use as a rallying cry or the media can use as a sound bite or a headline. 

Instead, first-year head coach and 1989 Academy grad, Troy Calhoun, told the annual media day gathering of local and regional reporters on Aug. 1 his club's pre-season ranking of seventh in the nine-team Mountain West Conference poll was generous. 

"I told them we were overrated," Calhoun said. "And, I was serious about it, too. There's nothing etched in stone at the Air Force Academy. We have to earn everything that comes our way. We've yet to earn anything, as players, as coaches, as a team. You start from the ground and build up." 

With that, the bluesuiters began their first practice later that afternoon under the tutelage of Calhoun. Their mission is to bounce back from three consecutive losing campaigns. Calhoun is depending on his senior-laden roster for leadership. 

"That's the key here. This is the world's finest leadership institution," said Calhoun, who is one of 17 Division I-A coaches to head the program at his alma mater. "Whenever we have good teams, we have phenomenal senior leadership. That will be crucial to our year." 

Among the upperclassmen Calhoun will count on is quarterback Shuan Carney, free safety Bobby Giannini, wide receiver Mark Root and place kicker Ryan Harrison. 

Carney enters his fourth season as the Falcons' signal caller determined to correct the mistakes that haunted Air Force the past two seasons. The Falcons dropped four games by a total of just 10 points in 2005 and five games by a total of only 14 points a year ago. 

"The learning is over," Carney said. "There are no excuses for this team. Winning is something we need to do. We always expected to win the last couple of years but now we have to. We've got our horns flared. We're ready to go." 

That optimism is fueled by Calhoun's plan to take advantage of Carney's proven passing prowess. The signal caller from North Olmstead, Ohio, is climbing up the all-time Air Force record book. He's second in touchdown passes (30) and third in passing yardage (3,900). He owns the top three single-season pass-completion percentages, including a career-best 64.2 percent, set in 2005. 

Those numbers have receivers like Root anxiously pointing toward the season opener Sept. 1 against South Carolina State at Falcon Stadium. 

"Shaun should be in a zone this year," Root said. "As receivers, we're confident he'll put the ball where it needs to be. We're excited about playing a role in the offense. Our mindset is to focus on catching the ball because any play could come our way." 

Pressuring opposing offenses into turnovers so the Falcons can control the ball will be a priority for new defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter, who was an assistant at the University of Nevada-Reno in 2006. 

"We'll run our package based on the Pittsburgh Steelers zone blitz," DeRuyter said. "Last year at Reno we led the (Western Athletic Conference) in sacks with 37 and led the country in takeaways. We're going to bring some pressure and create things for the offense." 

Not making defensive mistakes will be a key to making the pressure work. 

"It comes down to that," Giannini said. "Last year our mistakes showed. We're going to do everything we can not to blow coverages and to hit the right holes. Our mindset is to come out fast, come out strong and hit them in the mouth." 

An equally important part of any Air Force success will be the special teams, especially in close games determined by the kicking game. 

"(Our special teams) affect the field position and have opportunities to score," Harrison said. "That's why it's important for us to take advantage of our opportunities." 

The next four weeks leading up to the season opener will be Calhoun's opportunity to evaluate his team's makeup. 

"I want to play more than one deep (at various positions)," Calhoun said. "You're better if you can, but, it's not a given. Our players have to prove they're ready to perform at the level we have to in order to win. I think we can get to that point." 

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