One Last Look

Just before AFA football fans understandably shift into summertime mode, here are some leftover impressions from the Blue-Silver game of April 27th. Perhaps these notes will spark some conjecture on your part during the dog days of July and August between pitches of a baseball game or while looking for an errant tee shot on the back nine of your local golf course.

A CALL TO ARMS. Based on the play of the QBs in the Blue-Silver game the job of understudying Chance Harridge remains completely unsettled. Travis Thurmond, Zach Myhra and Adam Fitch are the main contenders to back Harridge.

       The coaching staff spent a considerable amount of spring ball conducting a search for the player who will man the number two spot at QB for the Falcons this fall. In fact, such a large amount of time was devoted in spring practice to conducting what amounted to an open audition among the three backup candidates, that Harridge may not have received adequate time to work on his need to improve his passing efficiency. Harridge threw only four passes in the B/S game and showed no conclusive signs of having markedly improved his passing ability from the 2002 season. He may well have improved this spring, but there was simply no evidence to support that assessment based solely on his limited play in the spring game.

       Zach Myhra had the nicest completion of the day throwing a twenty-six yard TD strike to halfback Matt Ward. Myhra was one of two on the day with his scoring toss to Ward his lone completion. If Myhra wins win the job he'll need a greater volume of work in which to do it than was the case in late April.

       Travis Thurmond was the most prolific of the QBs in the B/S game with five completions in a dozen attempts for sixty-eight yards. Thurmond threaded a nice pass to a halfback in the fourth quarter to show he had some touch on the ball. It should also be noted that Thurmond badly overthrew wide open receivers at two junctures during his time in the QB slot.

       Adam Fitch conducted a game tying TD march for the Silver squad which culminated in FB Thomas Crockett's four yard burst and a two point conversion by TE Adam Strecker with fifty-second to play. While Fitch showed some poise in marshaling his team to a game tying score it must also be pointed out that there were periods of play during the game in which he seemed completely bewildered running the option.

       Thurmond, Myhra and Fitch were all working with several handicaps. Each of them was working behind "mix and match" offensive lines, which--as constituted for the B/S game--won't see the light of day come regular season play. Each was working with backfield combinations which looked every bit as though this was their first time playing in anything resembling a meaningful exercise in football. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the QBs were all working with severely limited playbooks. This spring's B/S game was clearly a scrimmage in which AFA displayed atypical tendencies in that, QBs were throwing passes to backs far more than has ever been the case for a Fisher DeBerry coached team; the FB game was virtually nonexistent; QBs were not running the ball on option keepers with the kind of frequency that has always been the case since the Falcons began playing ground based option football in the early 1980s; and finally, for those hoping that the team's leading receiver in 2002, Adam Strecker, would be much in evidence, that simply wasn't the case.

       In nearly thirty years of watching football games at the AFA, I've never seen security so tight for gaining admittance to the academy grounds. Given the fact that there were only 250 people in the Falcon Stadium for the day's scrimmage and that just about all of them had to show a pictured form of identification to enter the academy grounds as well as have their name matched to a master list at the academy's Northgate Entrance from I-25, it would have been virtually impossible for a member of any of AFA's opponents for the 2003 season to have a member of its coaching staff attend the game. These factors all bear mention in light of the fact that the day's play calling was totally devoid of any imagination or novelty. If Fisher DeBerry and staff were intent on showcasing two hours of bland football for fear that someone might sneak in and spot a potential new wrinkle in the AFA option attack, then a tip of the hat and a hearty "well done, gentlemen" is certainly in order.

. PK Joey Ashcroft, a remarkable 16 for 18 (.889) in field goal attempts in 2002, kicked a 26 yard FG to show that he still has the accuracy which was his trademark last year. While there were several other PKs trotting onto and off of the stadium floor during the course of the morning, they were little more than window dressing. Ashcroft is rock solid in his position as the team's PK in 2003.

       The punting game is another story. The graduating John Welsh and returning junior-to-be Robert Barkers split the duties last year. Welsh averaged 37.4 yards on 22 attempts, while Barkers 43.6 yards on 23 attempts. A superficial glance at the figures might cause AFA fans to feel that the punting game is in good hands with Barkers, unless and until they recall that Barkers had bouts last season in which he would boom a sixty yarder only to follow that effort with a twenty yard shank. The result is that while Barkers "averaged" over 43 yards a punt he demonstrated a tendency to be erratic. Barkers also had some difficulty in securing snaps from center which led to hurried drops to initiate kicks, which in turn led to several untimely shanked punts giving AFA opponents favorable field position.

       Keep the name Don Heaton in mind. He's a 6-3/180 sophomore-to-be from Waterloo, Iowa. There's a funny story as to how Heaton even wound up at the academy. AFA kicking coach Jeff Hays was recruiting a player from Heaton's high school. That player kept sending Hays tapes. In viewing these tapes Jeff Hays--almost by accident--kept seeing Heaton punt in high school games. Hays' interest was piqued and he started to recruit Heaton. The result is that Heaton is now locked in a battle from which he has an opportunity to emerge as the team's punter. Just as Welsh and Barkers battled back and forth to win the punting job last season, so too could there be another struggle this fall between Barkers and Heaton.

       If you're looking for a diamond in the rough remember the name Jason Brown. The WR just finishing his freshman year at the academy is an intriguingly sized 6-4/210 target to whom AFA QBs may be lofting passes in the next few seasons.

       The top three HB spots in the backfield are locked up among Anthony Butler (who missed spring ball), Darnell Stephens and Matt Ward. That trio ran for 1,026 yards and scored 7 TDs last year. Joe Schieffer, a co-captain of the 2003 squad, has the inside track for the fourth HB spot. He should receive some competition from young Kris Holstege a 5-9/175 junior-to-be. Holstege acquitted himself well with a pass reception and several rushing attempts on which he showed flashes of elusiveness.
       Matt Ward made the day's best reception in corralling a twenty-six yard pass from Myhra for a TD. You should anticipate seeing Ward implemented as the team's principle punt returner this fall. Ward may also serve as a kickoff return specialist behind Alec Messerall. Messerall grabbed a 25 yard pass from Thurmond for a TD and the game's first score in the B/S contest.

       The battle for the FB job remains an unanswered question. Dan Shaffer--last year's starter before suffering a season ending injury on the first play of the second half of the Northwestern game--missed all of spring ball while recuperating from surgery. Steve Massie, 95/467/4.92/4TDs in 2002, received the bulk of the work in Shaffer's absence. The two players should combine to be the leading rushers at the pivotal FB spot in the AFA option attack once fall arrives. Massie will be a senior, while Shaffer, I believe, has received a medical turnback year and will be a junior.

       Safety Tyler Hess made a nice hit on a running back causing a fumble which was recovered by another defender. A shot like that delivered in the spring game may catch the coaching staff's attention enough to give Hess a boost up the depth chart.

       Sophomore-to-be, ILB, Joe Cianciolo 6-1/210 (North Charleston, S.C.) made a nice interception to give his Blue team the ball on the Silver's 36 yard line. The Blue wasn't able to capitalize as the team missed a 44 yard FG attempt into a stiff wind.

       Adam Fitch, who struggled prior to the final drive of the day, showed nice touch on one completion to WR J. P. Waller. Fitch didn't have much time to celebrate the completion as later on that same drive DL Nate Terrazone beat his blocker and dumped Fitch on his backside for a sack.

       It may be a game, but at the division 1-A level there are consequences for varying levels of performance. Shortly after the B/S game there were several cuts announced. Posters and readers of may remember the stir caused in the winter of 2002 when Frank Willis--an all state FB from Florida--announced his intentions to go to the AFA. Willis was switched to the DL in spring ball this year and was one of the cuts announced last week.  Brandon Conyers, who began the spring listed at third on the depth chart at NG, was also cut from the squad. LB Brandon Bernardoni--playing behind John Rudzinski and Cameron Hodge--was another cut.
Offensive linemen Vance Shaffer--slowed by a sprained ankle in spring drills--Ramon Young and Abe Leigh were also cut from the squad.

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