10 Wins Meant Great Players
There are a lot of Falcons worthy of All Conference Team, but who will make it?
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With the regular season in the books, I want to take a little time to reflect on the success that the Falcon team experienced this season, before we gear up for Bowl season. And for as great of a TEAM as they were this year, I want to focus specifically on what were some special performances by some outstanding football players.
Before Bowl matchups will be announced for 60+ teams in about a week nationally, the Mountain West Conference will recognize the leagues top performers by announcing the ‘All Mountain West Conference Team’. With that, I submit to you, some Air Force Football players worthy of All-Conference Consideration.
All Conference Considers on Offense
DONALD HAMMOND III (First Team All-MWC)
Its easy to become a prisoner of the moment. Donald Hammond has been nothing short of spectacular in the recent weeks, particularly in a performance for the ages against New Mexico. But to point to this small portion of the season would be an injustice to this young man.
Hammond didn’t have anything handed to him, as he had to beat out competition in spring and fall camp to earn the starting spot on the depth chart. Isaiah Sanders has proven to be a capable quarterback, the fact that (injuries aside) Hammond’s performance has kept him off the field is a real testament to just how good he has been.
But take a step back and look at things from 10,000 feet and you can’t help to acknowledge just how special this talent is. Were watching what may be the most dangerous passing quarterback that Air Force has had in some time. And I don’t mean this in a “he’s great for an Academy quarterback” kind of way.
He. Can Ball. Period.
But once you get lost in the gaudy numbers that Hammond has put up throwing the ball, you quickly can forget that he ran for 11 touchdowns on just under 500 yards. He should be acknowledged more nationally as the true dual threat passer that he is.
Geraud Sanders (First or Second Team All-MWC)
Usually when a player leads the country in any significant statistic, they garner more national attention. While that may not be the case for Geraud Sanders, its as unfortunate as the fate defensive backs have met when facing him.
Sanders doesn’t just lead the conference in yards per reception, he leads the country. He is also top five in the conference in touchdown receptions to go with nearly 750 yards receiving.
Like many, I would love to see what this guy could do on a more conventional passing team, just on pure volume of opportunities. Then again, thanks to changes made recently allowing Military Academy Athletes to turn pro, that may come to fruition in a professional capacity.
The Offensive Line (First, Second and Honorable Mention All MWC Team)
The Air Force offense has been very good this year. At just under 35 points per game in an offense that (supposedly) grinds clock limiting team possessions, the Falcons were 3rd in points per game in the Mountain West.
The reason that the Air Force offense was so successful was in large part because it was multiple- and that is a testament to the offensive line. This unit helped pave the way for an offense that finished second in yards per play, only behind Hawai’i, and once again led the conference in rush yards.
One of the easiest ways to point to this groups recognition as one of the best in the country would be its nomination to the Joe Moore Award, which honors the best offensive line unit in the nation.
Parker Ferguson, Nolan Laufenberg, Christopher Mitchell, Connor Vikupitz, Colin Marquez and Scott Hattok were all part of a unit that gave up the least sacks in the country again (4) and each could be found worthy to appear on either of the All-Mountain West Conference Teams. Yes, any of the six.
Timothy (Duval) Jackson/Kadin Remsberg/Ben Waters (All- MWC Honorable Mention)
Something Jackson, Remsberg and Waters all share in common; with more opportunities, all three could be First Team All Conference Players. They have been that caliber.
It’s interesting though, the thing that in one regard prevents these players from getting the recognition they may garner otherwise is the one thing that distinguishes Cadet athletes, a true team first mentality.
Remsberg and Jackson share the backfield and carries regularly with Donald Hammond and Taven Birdow, among others. I mention this particularly because the four of them are all in the top 18 in rushing in the conference, and all have gone for over 500 yards, with the exception of Hammond who falls short of that mark by nine yards.
Another interesting fact of note, this time last year, Ben Waters was a reserve on the secondary of the defense. And had he had enough catches to qualify, he would surplant his fellow pass catcher, Geraud Sanders as tops in the country for yards per reception.
All Conference Considers on Defense
Mosese Fifita (First or Second Team All- MWC)
Thanks to some recent changes around Cadet restrictions on weight, the Military Academies have been able to pursue and leverage some in season heft, they could not do in the past.
For Air Force, this advantage was very apparent this year in their own personal game-wrecker on the inside of the line, Mosese Fifita. The D-Line standout has collected five sacks on his way to being named to the Polynesian Player of the Year Watch List.
Air force was stout against the run, and their ability to collapse the pocket in the middle was a major reason the defense rebounded so spectacularly this season. This defensive unit now proudly boasts one of the top 25 total defenses in the country.
Jordan Jackson (Second Team or Honorable Mention All- MWC)
Coming into the 2019 season, there were lofty expectations for Jordan Jackson. He earned Second Team All-Conference honors last season as just a sophomore, and was prime for another strong campaign.
If you were to merely look at statistics you may say that he under performed relative to last season, as both sacks and tackles for loss were down this year. These are compelling stats, but I’d be remiss if his two forced fumbles and two batted passes were ignored this year.
I think very notably what you would find in the case for Jackson is that while those statistics may be down, the affect he had on the opposition and his team cannot be ignored. Teams had to gameplan for Jordan Jackson this year, and they did. In doing so, he drew attention that allowed players like Fifita to shine and the both of them ate up multiple blockers so linebacker’s Demonte Meeks and Kyle Johnson could stay clean and make plays. This is a case where he made the whole defense that much better.
Demonte Meeks (First or Second Team All- MWC)
The back two levels of a defense will always benefit from strong defensive line play. The Air Force defense was no different this year. One of those players who made the most of their opportunity was Demonte Meeks at the inside linebacker spot. All over the field was Meeks who registered 97 tackles to go with his nine tackles for loss and four quarterback sacks.
A lot went into making this a ressurgent defense, and Meeks is certainly a cornerstone to that improved play. It is very revealing that he garners this attention considering to start the season, he was really in the shadow of highly productive and by many accounts an All- Conference level linebacker in his peer, Kyle Johnson.
Zane Lewis (Second Team All- MWC)
Another regular season in the books and another season that saw Zane Lewis intercept a pass and return it 99 yards for a touchdown. A single data point constitutes not a pattern. We have a trend here, and that is Zane Lewis is consistently a rock solid cover corner.
While he only had one interception, he did take it to the house. In addition, the Falcon corner notched 40 tackles and 14 pass break-ups, good for third most in the MWC. Not since Roland Ladipo has Air Force placed a cornerback on the All Conference Team, but I suspect that trend ends in 2019. A few of those break-ups turned INT’s, and he’s a lock on the first team.
Lewis and his counterpart Tre Buggs III are major reasons why the Falcon pass defense rebounded so nicely. After a dreadful 2018 campaign, the Air Force pass defense finished this year second best in pass yards surrendered, and third in touchdowns. Monumental strides from last year.
All Conference Considers on Special Teams
Jake Koehnke (Second Team All- MWC)
When a team is complete in all three phases of the game, the results are just what Air Force experienced this year, a successful season. A 10 win campaign does not come easy, and getting guaranteed points every time you enter the red-zone goes a long way. The Falcons got just that from Jake Koehnke.
He may of only kicked 12 field goals this year, hitting on all of them, but you can’t ignore that one of those kicks was 57 yards long. Even dating back to last season, Koehnke has proven to be a reliable leg, and will be tough to replace next season. If not for a couple of missed extra points, he locks down a first team spot. Lets not forget, this is a Lou Groza Award Finalist as well.