By Brian Hagberg
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Fountain, Colo. — A spring tradition for the U.S. Air Force Academy football team received a pair of new wrinkles this year.
While the annual Blue-Silver game still featured a matchup of offense vs. defense, head coach Troy Calhoun and his staff weren’t the only “coaches” roaming the sideline Saturday. Commanders from all the Front Range installations, Air Force Space Command, Academy, Fort Carson, and Peterson and Schriever Air Force Bases, served as honorary coaches for the game.
Air Force personnel were on the offense’s sideline with Army helping lead the defense.
“Colorado Springs really is a melting pot of services,” said Jim Knowlton, Academy athletic director. “We are always trying to find out how we can bring everyone together. This is a great opportunity to bring the leaders of Peterson, Schriever, Fort Carson and the Academy together and have some fun, talk a little smack and really just enjoy each other’s company.”
When the team took the field, it wasn’t on the familiar turf at Falcon Stadium, instead the Falcons held the intrasquad scrimmage in front of approximately 350 fans at Fountain-Fort Carson High School.
“One of my priorities has been, how do we connect with the community?” Knowlton said. “I think this is one way to get out there, get a chance to talk to fans (and) get them (excited about Academy football). It’s great to get folks that may have never seen a Falcon game before to come out and see (the team).”
While NCAA rules prohibited them from actually calling plays, Gen. John E. Hyten, commander of AFSPC, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, Academy superintendent, Brig. Gen. Stephen Williams, Academy commandant of cadets, Col. Troy Dunn, 10th Air Base Wing commander, Col. Douglas Schiess, 21st Space Wing commander and Col. Anthony Mastalir, 50th Space Wing vice commander, certainly wanted to take credit for the first play of the game.
Quarterback Arion Worthman found Cody Bronkar behind the defense and the pair connected on a 52-yard touchdown pass, much to the chagrin of Maj. Gen. Ray F. Gonsalves, 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson commanding general, and his staff on the opposite sideline.
“I think it’s awesome. To have four-star generals and three-star generals here supporting (the team) and really taking an interest in them and talking to them, I think that’s what makes the military special,” Knowlton said. “To have it happening here on the football field is great for our players.”
Mastalir added, “Active duty is no different than athletics, it’s a team sport. It’s a great opportunity for us to come together at an event like this, to socialize, to develop that camaraderie because it pays dividends on the battlefield.”
The inclusion of the installation commanders builds on the Academy’s Cadet-Athlete-Soldier Training and Leadership Exchange program, between the 1st Stryker Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, and the Academy, which allows Soldiers and cadets to share and learn about each other’s leadership perspectives and athletic programs.
“We’ve assigned each of our varsity teams to a unit at Fort Carson and there’s been some great interaction back-and-forth,” Knowlton said. “We’re working on doing the same thing at both Schriever and Peterson because, for our cadets, it’s great exposure for their life after being a cadet.”
Mastalir said the cadets’ excitement was palpable, both for those about to graduate and for the underclassmen looking ahead to the fall.
“It’s such an exciting period of time for the cadets, coming up on graduation,” he said. “The seniors already know where they’re going and they’re excited to get into the active duty Air Force and contribute.”
Speaking of the outlook for the football team, Mastalir added, “They’ve got some really good, young talent. Coach (Calhoun) did an outstanding job recruiting this year and finding the right talent. I think they’re going to have a lethal team. I think it’s going to be a good year.”
The graduation ceremony for the Class of 2016 is set for June 2 at Falcon Stadium. The football team will kick-off the 2016 season Sept. 3 when the Falcons host Abilene Christian University.