QB Chance Harridge

2002 Statistics

Coach: Fisher DeBerry
149-83-1, 19 years
2002 Record: 8-5
at California WON 23-21
at Utah WON 30-26
at Wyoming LOST 26-34
at Army WON 49-30
at UNLV WON 49-32
Virginia Tech LOST 13-20

2002 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2003 Outlook

DeBerry has built a winning juggernaut in Colorado Springs and not by accident. His unique, personal formula (much like VT's Frank Beamer) includes a dangerous running game, excellent special teams, sound tackling, and a tendency to play experienced upperclassmen. Last year the Falcons rose into the Top 20 and seemed poised for great things before N.D. and a late season fall-off.

This year look for Air Force to sustain solid play from season's beginning to end. The offense will carry the way, with Chance Harridge having a big year (may even get some Heisman nods.) Look for the Falcon running game to continue leading the nation and for youngster RB Matt Ward to become a star. Defensively, Air Force will feed off their strong linebacking core, but will continue to have its troubles. As long as opposing players keep getting bigger (no player over 300 lbs) AND faster, the Falcons cannot win the recruiting wars and therefore keep up. The defense will let the team down at least twice, but the offense and special teams will carry the Academy to another special season overall.

Projected 2003 record: 9-3
TE Adam Strecker
LB John Rudzinski
LB Kenny Smith
QB - 3.5 DL - 3.5
RB - 3 LB - 3
WR - 1.5 DB - 3.5
OL - 4 ..

Passing: Chance Harridge, 144-64-7, 1062 yards, 10 TD's

Rushing: Chance Harridge, 252 att., 1229 yds., 22 TD's

Receiving: Adam Strecker, 14 rec., 261 yds., 4 TD's

Scoring: Chance Harridge, 22 TD's, 132 pts.

Punting: Robert Barkers, 23 punts, 43.6 avg.

Kicking: Joey Ashcroft, 16-18 FG, 47-50 PAT, 95 pts.

Tackles: Larry Duncan, 117 tot., 36 solo

Sacks: Trevor Hightower, 6.5 sacks

Interceptions: Larry Duncan, 2 for 0 yds.

Kickoff returns: Alec Messerall, 7 ret., 21.0 avg.

Punt returns: Nate Allen, 1 ret., 21.0 avg.


K Joey Ashcroft
OFFENSE: Leotis Palmer-HB, Tom Heier-HB, Ricky Amezaga-WR, Wayne Southam-C, Bryan Blew-KR
DEFENSE: Eric Thompson-DE, Joel Buelow-LF, Wes Crawley-CB, Paul Mayo-CB, Mark Marsh-RF, John Welsh-P, Anthony Schlegel-ILB (transferred)

written by Dave Bagchi

When you think Air Force football, you think Coach Fisher DeBerry and the wishbone. Going into last year the Falcons had question marks regarding an inexperienced offensive line. Thirteen games later the questions were answered. The unit played brilliantly in leading the nation with 308 rushing yards per game. The Falcons return six of their seven O-linemen. Four seniors will start along with one junior. Guard Jesse Underbakke is an All-American candidate and best along the Falcon front. Underbakke lead the Falcons in pancake blocks and is a very quick player laterally. Underbakke will be joined by 6'7 tackle Brett Waller. Junior center John Peel is the only new starter and will vie for the spot with slightly bigger senior, Stephen Maddox. Blane Neufeld will have to recover from a foot injury suffered in the bowl game. If not fully recovered, look for junior Matt Thompson to step in when needed.

Their offensive key is to maintain short-yardage situations on third down. Last season, the Falcons converted nearly half of their third-down plays, missing more when third-and-long and making more when third-and-short. To maintain this success they will call on senior QB Chance Harridge (1,234 rush yds led team, 22 TDs). He is a physical runner who slashes at the seam without much dancing -- an excellent decision maker with the ball.

Air Force asks much from their fullbacks, and they have one of the deepest units in the nation. Returning starter Steve Massie and backup Adam Cole combined for 143 carries for 662 yards. The Falcons don't just fake the fullback up the gut, but actually use him to carry the ball. Also, look for the return of injured 2001 starter, Dan Shaffer. All obviously have good mobility as well as adequate blocking ability.

Last year, Harridge only completed 44% of his passes. His accuracy suffers from all the hits he takes. As long as the option is in place, the Falcons will never fulfill their namesake to have a great passing attack. Still, they must improve to at least threaten opposing defenses. It will start with the receiving core.

Starting TE Adam Strecker had a team-leading 14 receptions and averaged nearly 19 yards per catch with four touchdowns. He is not a speedster but was often wide open downfield, either due to 8 committed in the box to stop the run or off the play actions. Air Force loves to run their play action off a double TE look. The Falcons will bring in 270-pound senior Todd Jolly for this set

The basic Air Force formation only includes one receiver on the field. J.P. Waller, Anthony Park and Alec Messerall will compete for this spot. The inexperienced trio combined for just 26 receptions last year. The one to watch will be Park. He is the type of burner necessary to spread the defense but he will be coming off a leg injury suffered last year. . Anyway you cut it, 40 total receptions (including the above TE) is 3 per game, not enough to threaten DBs so they will respect the pass.

In the offensive backfield, gone are both starting tailbacks, including emotional team-leader Leotis Palmer. In his absence, look for smaller and quicker Anthony Butler to earn one spot. Butler carried 17 times for 75 yds in the bowl game. Junior Darnell Stephens will battle ballyhooed sophomore Matt Ward for the other tailback spot. Ward averaged a team best 7 yards an attempt. So, maybe not a concern individually, but the position is important and will be a concern until set.


OT Blane Neufeld


Returning Starters in bold
QB Chance Harridge-Sr (5-11, 185) Travis Thurmond-Jr (5-10, 185)
FB Steve Massie-Sr (5-11, 230) Adam Cole-Jr (6-0, 210)
HB Darnell Stephens-Jr (6-2, 200) Joe Schieffer-Sr (5-10, 185)
HB Anthony Butler-Jr (5-9, 195) Matt Ward-So (5-11, 180)
WR Anthony Park-Sr (5-11, 170) Alec Messerall-Jr (5-11, 185)
TE Adam Strecker-Sr (6-6, 240) Todd Jolly-Sr (6-4, 270)
OT Brett Waller-Sr (6-7, 275) Scott Diehl-Jr (6-6, 270)
OG Brett Huyser-Sr (6-4, 295) Brian Jarratt-Jr (6-5, 280)
C Stephen Maddox-Sr (6-2, 260) John Peel-Jr (6-2, 255)
OG Jesse Underbakke-Sr (6-3, 290) Cory Crossetti-Sr (6-3, 275)
OT Blane Neufeld-Sr (6-5, 280) Tyler Terrazone-Sr (6-4, 255)
K Joey Ashcroft-Sr (6-0, 210) Michael Greenaway-Jr (5-10, 175)



written by Dave Bagchi

Air Force has a strong and aggressive defense. Coordinator Richard Bell employs base 3-3-5 defensive formations. The focus of this scheme lies on the linebackers. Bell asks a lot of this unit. Of the team's 29 sacks, 14 came from the linebackers. Two of last year's starting trio returns. The star last year was 245-pound ILB Anthony Schlegel (team best 118 tackles, 10 TFL). Schlegel has transferred this off-season for undisclosed reasons. Junior Cameron Hodge will most likely replace Schlegel. He is a bit smaller and not as experienced. Losing Schlegel is a blow but nevertheless, the other two Falcon starting linebackers pack punch, and Hodge had strong production in his limited role to provide much promise. The ILB duo of John Rudzinski and Trev Hightower combined for 12.5 sacks in 2002. They are big and have up-field speed. The unit also has depth, returning seven deep. Look for some of these players to be converted into safeties, namely under-sized sophomore Overton Spence.

The Falcons will have solid overall secondary depth. FS Larry Duncan and can be relied upon to add experience and leadership. Duncan was second on the team in tackles (70). Air Force has a lot of young players in the secondary that received playing time a year ago. Overall, 11 of the 14 deep in their five-man secondary rotation returns. This experience will bode well in the ever-adjusting complexities of overlapping 5 DBs with 3 LBs.

After allowing only 16 points per game during a 6-0 start, Air Force suffered a defensive meltdown. In finishing the year just 2-5, the Falcons allowed 30 points per contest. Bell must get more push from a defensive front that wore down as the year progressed. This year, starters Monty Coleman and Nicholas Taylor return. The two players only combined for three sacks in 2002. Look for DE Charles Bueker to replace departed senior Eric Thompson. This trio must gel quickly to keep the opposing blockers off the excellent Air Force linebacking core.

Even with experience, Air Force's overall pass defense (38th in 2002) must improve. Namely, the lack of speed has hurt the Falcons here. This weakness will only continue to be exploited by the pass-happy Mountain West. Despite the depth at secondary, the Falcons will have to replace two key losses in the secondary -- SS Joel Buelow and DB Wes Crawley. Buelow was tied a year ago as the Falcon's second leading tackler and Crawley lead the unit in interceptions. Unproven senior Felix Cole will most likely replace Buelow. Look for Sean Rogers to move from the backup position at right corner to challenge. We will update this as developments warrant. Crawley will be replaced at right cornerback by junior speedster Charles Akinymei. Akinymei is still learning the position and will take risks. He is the type of player Air Force will line up on big-play opposing receivers. Watching the Air Force defense a year ago, the Falcons blitzed quite a bit and put their secondary in tough positions. This group just does not have the speed to stay in man-to-man effectively. And if the front three are lacking and force eight into the box for run-stopping, last year's 38th pass defense ranking will numerically increase.


FS Larry Duncan


Returning Starters in bold
DE Monty Coleman-Sr (6-2, 245) Nathan Terrazone-So (6-3, 235)
NG Nicholas Taylor-Sr (6-4, 265) Russ Mitscherling-So (6-2, 240)
DE Charles Bueker-Sr (6-5, 260) Ryan Carter-Sr (6-2, 245)
ILB Trevor Hightower-Sr (6-0, 230) Marchello Graddy-Sr (6-1, 235)
ILB Kenny Smith-Jr (6-2, 225) Overton Spence-So (6-2, 205)
ILB John Rudzinski-Jr (6-2, 230) Cameron Hodge-Jr (6-2, 225)
RF Sean Rodgers-Jr (5-11, 195) Grant Mallory-Jr (5-9, 180)
LF Adrian Wright-Sr (6-0, 215) Felix Cole-Sr (6-1, 210)
CB Nate Allen-Jr (5-10, 180) David Conley-Jr (5-11, 185)
CB Jeff Overstreet-Sr (5-10, 185) Jordan Wilkie-Jr (5-11, 170)
FS Larry Duncan-Sr (5-10, 200) Chase Waterhouse-Jr (6-1, 185)
P Robert Barkers-So (6-3, 212) Don Heaton-So (6-3, 180)




As is typical of Coach DeBerry's teams, the Falcons will have excellent special teams. The kicking game leads the way. All-Mountain West senior PK Joey Ashcroft, hit 16-18 kicks in 2002. Strong-legged punter Robert Barkers (45.5 yds/punt) will replace departed senior John Welsh. Barker's play will be key in winning the field-position battle, so he will have to improve on his ability to hit inside the opposing team's 20. Air Force ranked 48th in the nation in punt returns and 40th on kickoffs. The unit gets a major boost from big-play man, Matt Ward. The job is Ward's to lose. De Berry has no issues with putting his starters on the return unit as Leotis Palmer handled duties a year ago. If Ward does not earn it, look for junior Alec Messerall.


If the Falcons were looking for balance this spring, they got it. The game ended in a 14-14 tie, with both offense and defense synchronizing in performance. A main goal (as every year) was to heighten the passing game. No conclusive results were obtained, but you can bet Harridge will make it a personal priority this summer… No clear-cut backup for Harridge has emerged through the spring, though it is our belief that junior Travis Thurmond will be the guy. Not far behind him is sophomore Adam Fitch… JR Kris Holstege will be looked upon to provide minutes as a regular alternate at halfback. Last year's starting FB, Dan Shaffer, continued to rehab his injury this spring but should be healthy by the time practice starts in August. Assuming he is near 100 percent, he should share duties with Massie at FB… Look out for sophomore WR Jason Brown. He has unusual size for a Falcon WR, at 6'4", 210 lbs., but he's a sound route-runner with substantial hands. People are starting to compare him to former Falcon WR great Ryan Fleming.

JR LB Kenny Smith had to fill the void left by injured Marchello Graddy this spring and did so in admirable fashion. Smith is a tenacious 'backer with the heart of fighter and the sting of the same breed. The linebackers have played very well this spring, highlighting the strength of this defense. Hightower and Rudzinski worked harmoniously in the middle of that defense and should be poised for a prodigious 2003 campaign. It was learned that backup LB Justin Kasmarcak has left the team… backup NG Russ Mitscherling was a strength on the DL this spring and will likely be the first man used when the defense goes to a four-man line… Safety Tyler Hess stepped up at his safety spot and should step up the depth ladder as well. CB Nate Allen has been the most pleasant surprise in the secondary, getting better and better with every practice. Overall, there has been intense competition in a relatively frail secondary.

The Falcons may have a three-way battle for punter heading into the season. Andrew Martin, Don Heaton and Robert Barkers all kicked very well during the spring. Inside word has it that Heaton will eventually be the guy… There's a lot of hype starting accumulate around Matt Ward on special teams. AFA will likely use him on kick and punt returns, as well as on offense. He has everyone talking about his speed and could turn out to be an all-conference return man. Messerall will join him on kickoffs, with Holstege getting some action as well.