Integrity. Service. Excellence. The three values of the United States Air Force. They come out easy for me because I spent over five years active duty and another in the reserves. Although I never spent one day as a cadet at the Air Force Academy, I didn’t have to to know that discipline is the highest order of the land. As reported by Frank Schwab of the Colorado Springs Gazette, five academy football players were not in attendance at the beginning of camp this past week.
Reasoning was not given for the absence. Head coach Troy Calhoun offered but a simple explanation of, “They’re not here.”
While the cause of the indefinite suspensions is not exactly known, it can assumed that the players violated team rules or are in poor academic standing. The players not in attendance are as follows: junior safety Anthony Wooding, junior linebacker Jamil Cooks, senior receiver Mikel Hunter, junior receiver Brandon Hirneise, and junior tight end Devin Duren.
Losing five players before the first game of the season is a difficult enough challenge for any program. For coach Calhoun, the incident is especially nasty. Of the five players dismissed from the team, four had a good to assured shot of being a starter. For a team that is short on returning starters, the Falcons did themselves no favors on the field.
With only six returning starters listed, which is by far the least in the Mountain West Conference, the 2012 hill just got steeper. Wooding would be counted as one of the returning starters as the fifth leading tackler in 2011. Cooks is not far behind on production with 50 tackles last season including eight for a loss and two and half sacks. Hunter had 13 receptions for 148 yards and a touchdown.
There is another disturbing caveat about the group listed above, all are upperclassmen. By all accounts, the Mountain West looks highly competitive this season. Air Force has standards of conduct that exceed the typical academic institution. Players caught breaking the code of conduct, are dealt with quickly and harshly without prejudice or favor. TCU, for example, doesn’t exactly have the same culture.
According to the report from the CS Gazette all players are still enrolled and it is not known if they will return if ever to the football program. The culture of honor and accountability that Air Force is praised with, is also its curse. In the world of win now or else, the Falcons clearly didn’t get the memo. Again, what the players are accused of doing is unknown at the time, and coach Calhoun will neither confirm nor deny speculation.
If there is any fan base in the country that understands accountability comes before victory, it would be an academy. Air Force alumni, and fans in Colorado Springs, would be wise to remind themselves of that this fall. Integrity. Service. Excellence. The three core values of the Air Force are non-negotiable.