Worth­man leads young troops

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Kyle Fredrickson


Force opened foot­ball fall camp prac­tice Fri­day night, and in the sun­set glow be­neath the Ram­part Range, the Fal­cons felt out first-day jit­ters with a huge crop of new faces.

A pro­gram-record 32 se­niors are gone from last year’s 10-win team. Two new as­sis­tant coaches roam the side­line.

“It’s a lit­tle strange, at first,” se­nior wide re­ceiver Tyler Wil­liams said.

How­ever, af­ter a two-hour prac­tice in shoul­der pads and hel­mets, a 5-foot-11, 201pound ju­nior trot­ted off the prac­tice field in front of re­porters with a sense of calm.

“We got the ball re­ally rolling last year,” quar­ter­back Arion Worth­man said. “We’ve got a lot of con­fi­dence.”

Eleventh-year Air Force coach Troy Cal­houn en­ters the 2017 cam­paign with­out a de­fined start­ing passer on the fall camp depth chart as he tracks the progress of Worth­man and se­nior Nate Romine be­fore the Sept. 2 home opener against VMI. But if the fi­nal six games of 2016 serve as any in­di­ca­tor, the Fal­cons are in ca­pa­ble hands with Worth­man un­der cen­ter.

Back on Oct. 28, Air Force was headed to­ward its fourth con­sec­u­tive loss, this time at Fresno State, when Romine’s an­kle in­jury pushed Worth­man into the spot­light mid­way through the third quar­ter. He sparked the Fal­cons to a 31-21 vic­tory and then started in five con­sec­u­tive wins, in­clud­ing a 45-21 Ari­zona Bowl vic­tory against South Alabama, to fin­ish the year.

In seven ap­pear­ances last fall, Worth­man led the Fal­cons in av­er­age rush­ing (96.3 yards) and ac­counted for 10 touch­downs.

“His strengths are that he is strong, phys­i­cally and men­tally,” Air Force coach Troy Cal­houn told re­porters in July at the Moun­tain West me­dia sum­mit in Las Ve­gas. “He’s bright. He’s a good worker. He’s a hum­ble guy who re­ally wants to play well.”

Should Worth­man se­cure the start­ing role, he’ll be with­out the ser­vices of re­ceiver Jalen Robi­nette, whose 35 catches last sea­son ac­counted for 51 per­cent of the Fal­cons’ to­tal com­ple­tions. No other re­ceiver on the ros­ter ac­counted for more than 200 yards, while Robi­nette fin­ished with 959. It has left the door open for sev­eral wide­outs — in­clud­ing Wil­liams, Cody Bronkar, Ron­ald Cleve­land and Jake Mak­tovitch — to fill the void.

“We’re go­ing to miss Jalen Robi­nette. He’s an awe­some guy, one of my great bud­dies,” Worth­man said. “But we’ve got four guys that are ca­pa­ble of com­ing in, step­ping up, and play­ing for us. I’ve got con­fi­dence in all four guys that are com­pet­ing for the spot, and I’m glad I’m not the coach right now, be­cause they’re go­ing to have a hard de­ci­sion.”

The re­turn of tail­back Tim McVey and five of­fen­sive line­men with start­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in­stills con­fi­dence, too, but should the Fal­cons out­per­form their pre­sea­son Moun­tain West me­dia poll pro­jec­tion (fourth in the Moun­tain Di­vi­sion), Worth­man un­der­stands his lead­er­ship role must in­crease.

It’s why he plans to ar­rive early and leave late at each fall camp prac­tice in ad­di­tion to hours of film study. When the fresh­man class of cadets ar­rived on cam­pus this sum­mer, Worth­man took sev­eral play­ers he pre­vi­ously hosted on of­fi­cial vis­its un­der his wing.

A sign of things to come over Worth­man’s fi­nal two years in the pro­gram.

“I want to look out for them,” he said. “I’m ex­cited that they’re here.”

James Wooldridge, The Gazette

Air Force quar­ter­back Arion Worth­man, warm­ing up last week at prac­tice, rushed for 96.3 yards per game in 2016.

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