The top 10 Air Force football players you need to know for the 2016 season.
1. S Weston Steelhammer
At 6-2 and 200 pounds, he’s built like an ideal strong safety, and with all he can do, he might be the best defensive player in the conference. After growing into the team’s most impressive defender two years ago, he became a great hitter who made 61 tackles on the way to First Team All-Mountain West honors. He repeated the all-star feat last year, and was even better making 80 tackles, five interceptions and 10.5 tackles for loss. Far steadier than he was in 2014, Steelhammer was a rock-solid last line of defense, and he did a nice job of both finding ways into the backfield and also coming up strong when the ball is in the air.
2. CB Roland Ladipo
Not just a good corner who came up with three interceptions – taking one for a score in the opener against Morgan State – he was also active in the backfield from time to time making a sack and 4.5 tackles for loss. But where he excelled on the outside was as an open-field tackler, finishing the season second on the team with 79 stops with 11 against Michigan State and 12 against Colorado State. Only 5-10 and 185 pounds, he’s not all that big, but he’s really, really fast – he was an Ohio high school state champion sprinter.
3. RB Jacobi Owens
The 6-0, 202-pound main back for the ground attack over the last few years led the way two seasons ago with 1,054 yards and five scores, and followed it up running for 1,096 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging over 5.32 yards per try. The speedster out of Las Vegas beefed up over the last few seasons to add more power to his wheels, and he was able to hold up better because of it. He ran for 137 yards in back-to-back games against Fresno State and Hawaii, and he solved the San Diego State run defense in the Mountain West title game running for 156 yards on 17 carries. Great on the outside, he can get tough in the interior, too.
4. WR Jalen Robinette
If he was on any other team he’d be an all-star who’d put up massive numbers. But he fills his role for the Falcons as a sensational deep weapon averaging 18.74 yards per grab two years ago and taking things up to another level last year averaging 24.65 yards per catch. The rocky quarterback situation kept him from making so many plays – he caught 43 passes two years ago and 26 for 641 yards and five scores last year – but he was able to destroy Utah State with 210 yards on seven catches and hit Michigan State for 82 yards on two grabs. At 6-4 and 215 pounds he has the size, he can block, and he has no problems beating single coverage to get deep.
5. S Brodie Hicks
The team’s fourth-leading tackler (67), Hicks closed out strongly with 10 stops against San Diego State in the Mountain West championship, and with 11 against Cal in the blowout bowl loss. At 6-2 and 200 pounds he has excellent size and terrific athleticism – he can jump out of the stadium. While he made two picks, he needs to do more when the ball is in the air.
6. LB D.J. Dunn
With the right build and the right hitting ability, the 6-3, 240-pound Dunn took over the job last year on the outside making 52 tackles with six sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. With his size and burst, he’s the hybrid type who work up front or hang back and be a key run stopper. It took a little while to heat everything up, but he became a steady producer in the second half of the season with seven tackles in four of his last five regular season games.
7. RB Timothy McVey
The team’s second-leading running back averaged 8.5 yards per carry with 435 yards and nine scores, and he proved to be a nice receiver out of the backfield catching 10 passes for 307 yards and four scores. He didn’t do much of anything for most of the season – even with a 113-yard, two score day on seven carries against Hawaii – and then heated up over the last four games with 105 yards and two touchdowns against New Mexico and with three scores against San Diego State. While he’s only 5-9 and 190 pounds, he’s very fast and he’s tough through the line.
8. QB Nate Romine
Back after getting hurt last year, the 5-11, 195-pound Romine needs to prove he has the same quickness despite tearing up his knee. Two years ago he did a nice job of filling in, throwing for 603 yards and running for 208, but last season he played just four games before getting hurt, completing 39% of his passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns with a pick, and ran 22 times for 111 yards and a score averaging five yards per play. While he has decent passing skills, it all comes down to whether or not he can cut and run back to normal on his repaired knee. All is expected to be fine by the start of the season.
9. DT Lochlin Deeks
Not the normal nose tackle, the 6-4, 265-pound Deeks is a little long and lean for the position, but he has a good frame, is active, and did a nice job against the run. He’s a fighter, making 31 tackles with a sack and 5.5 tackles for loss with seven against Boise State. While he might not be a regular playmaker in the backfield, he has turned into a terrific part of a good line.
10. PK Luke Strebel
Strebel took over the kicking job and was fantastic, hitting ten of his 11 field goals, topping out with a 45-yarder against Boise State. His one miss came from 37 yards out, connecting on all five of his attempts from beyond 40 yards. While he doesn’t have a massive leg, it’s more than good enough. He can punt if needed, too, averaging 40 yards per try with two inside the 20 on his 13 kicks last year.