After four years, Tim Jefferson is set to graduate from the Air Force Academy at the end of May and go into pilot training as a 2nd Lieutenant. His absence leaves a huge hole in the Air Force back field. Jefferson was a four year starter for the Falcons, becoming the winningest quarterback in service academy history and ranking himself among the five greatest to play the position at Air Force with Dee Dowis, Shaun Carney, and the Morgan brothers, Beau and Blane.
Air Force, however was not left with a bare cupboard. Fortunately there will be some experience directing the offense this fall.
Connor Dietz was granted a medical turnback (the service academy equivalent of a medical red-shirt) this past fall. All cadets are required to complete their military training and course work in four years, but if they suffer a medical issue during their military training that hampers their ability to complete it they can be granted a turnback that allows them to finish up in one extra semester. Dietz suffered an injury his freshman year in 2008 that cause him to miss valuable training. Dietz was competing with Tim Jefferson, at that time, for the top QB spot. He ultimately played the back-up role for 3 seasons getting spot duty when Jefferson was injured, including two wins at New Mexico in 2009 (37-13) and 2011 (42-0), coming in as a replacement in the first half of both games.
Dietz fits the mold of the prototypical option QB. He is 6-0, 190 lbs and is shifty running the football. He has rushed for 678 yards on 127 carries with 4 touchdowns. The 5.3 yards per carry average tops that of Tim Jefferson who averaged 4.0 yards per carry. The biggest question mark is Dietz throwing ability. In 2008 when Dietz was competing with Jefferson for the starting position, Jefferson won the position outright prior to Dietz's injury because he was a more consistent passer. Dietz has completed 32 of 60 (53%) passes over his career for 392 yards and 3 touchdowns, with just one interception. In last season's 25-17 loss to Wyoming, Dietz subbed in for Jefferson after a first quarter concussion and was unable to get the Air Force offense going through the air completing 2 of 5 passes for -1 yard an a critical interception with 19 seconds remaining in the game that ended Air Force's chances.
Dietz has worked on his passing this spring in anticipation of becoming the outright starter for the Falcons this fall. He must be able to show some consistency throwing the ball for Air Force to balance out their attack. Opposing defenses will always expect Air Force to run the ball more than pass, but having a threat of beating a defense over the top will be necessary for the Falcons to have success this fall.
2012 will be a transition year at the quarterback position as Dietz only has the one season left of eligibility. Coming in this fall are two intriguing prospects from the Air Force Academy Prep School. Jaleel Awini and Dano Graves split time as the starter for the Prep School football team that went 6-3 last season and 5-2 in the highly competitive Jayhawk Conference at the Junior College level. Awini was the 2010 Gatorade Player of the Year for Colorado when he led Rangeview High School to the 5A quarterfinals and an 11-2 record. Graves was named the national player of the year in 2010 by MaxPreps leading Folsom (CA) High School to a 14-1 record and the 2010 CIF Div II State Title.
Unlike 2008 when the Falcons didn't have a viable veteran candidate to go to, head coach Troy Calhoun will be in no hurry to get Graves or Awini into the starting line-up. Being an academy graduate, Calhoun understands the difficulties Graves and Awini will be faced with this summer mentally and physically with basic training and then getting adjusted to the military lifestyle this fall.
Unless, either Awini or Graves blows the coaching staff away in August camp, Dietz will be charged with keeping the Air Force football program on a steady course this fall. Expectations from the quarterback position are tempered for 2012, but beyond that is where Falcon fans may be tempted to dream.