Air Force Ready For Saturday's Armed Forces Bowl

BRANT RINGLER: We are pretty excited. Can you believe it's already been ten years? I reflect being back in the stands the very first year of this game as a fan and thinking where this game is going to be in the future. The first year was lightning in a bottle, two top 20 teams and that was the start of the Boise BCU rivalry that has grown over the past few years.

I was fortunate to come on board the second year, just got married, got this job with a little company called ESPN and started in late October and I strutted on that field in late December, 15 degrees, looking at empty frozen seats and going, what the heck have I gotten myself into here.

After the third year, we obviously needed a change. We have done well with tickets but what can we do to make this a better event. Collaboratively, we put our minds together and said hey, we need to do something special. Let's honor the Armed Forces, got ESPN to sign off on that and within a week after that announcement, Bell Helicopter stepped on board and became our title sponsor. We have had a fabulous relationship the last several years, now on board for next year as well. We could not be more proud of what they have done to enhance this Bowl game.

The last seven years, a lot of great memories on the field between the teams. A lot of things we do during the time outs of the games and at halftimes, we create some very special memories for the fans and the players who are the Wounded Warriors that we have at the game. We have created additional awards like the Great American Patriot Award that we will do at half time once again and I will get into that in a second.

But a lot of special memories the last seven years and we are excited about this thing and together with Air Force and Rice, perfect for what we are all about, two teams. The first one, Air Force, second in the nation in running this year, they are young, they have 18 or 19 kids from Texas. And you have got Rice on the other side with pretty much 90 percent of their team from Texas, and they are very young, only seven seniors on their team and they finished their year quite strong winning five of their last six and four in a row to finish the year. We feel they are going to give us a great game and we look forward to it very much.

THE MODERATOR: Talk a little about tickets.

BRANT RINGLER: Tickets, we have about 2,000 tickets left at this point. They are going quite well, both teams are taking care of their allotments. We have also had great a rush on our military tickets. I don't know if everybody knows, but our corporate partners are required to buy military tickets for the families to attend the game for free. We probably have 12,000, 13,000 tickets outs there just because of that program.

So the stands tomorrow should be more than half full with military families to be honored, so we are really looked forward to that.

THE MODERATOR: Obviously next year we have Navy here, a Mountain West team. Can I add fuel to the fire and say a rematch for Air Force next year?

BRANT RINGLER: I think Air Force would relish that for sure. You'd have to talk to Coach about that. We would always love to have a matchup like that. That would be phenomenal, but probably not. We'll see what happens.

We do want to point out a couple of things in regards to what we have done this year. We always like to say we are more than a Bowl game. We started a new program called the Armed Forces Merit Award and partnered with the Football Wives Association. You see the trophy in the back. Our first recipient this year was Nate Boyer, a long snapper for the University of Texas.

We thought this award was something we wanted to begin this year to honor people that have served our nation and have come back and given back to football, people, organizations. There are several conferences that do things for the military, as well but we thought it was a perfect match with our Bowl game with this award. We have something special and we hope it will continue to grow and thank you very much.

Our game tomorrow, want to share a couple of things with you that we will be doing. Starting in the morning we have great festivities outside the stadium. It's overflowing from the area we originally designed it for. And we have a pregame concert; I want everybody to in the stadium early because we are having one heck of a pregame show, and obviously the Rice fans are going and they are special.

We also have a dual jump team, the Wings of Blue and the Silver Wings of the Army jumping together. Dana Bowman will be jumping with them; he's a double amputee. And we are bringing in a 1,500 square foot American flag, one of the largest you'll ever see.

We also have the National Champions Rifle Drill Team, J.P. Elder Middle School, which is a middle school here, will be on the field doing that. And then throughout the game we will be honoring different people. We are doing a home giveaway and a $3,000 presentation to Operations Finding Homes, one of our partners.

And at half time we have some special events, too. We have a Great American Patriot Award recipient thanks to Armed Forces Insurance. We have General Norton Schwartz, which is the 22nd Air Force Chief of Staff just recently retired will be receiving the award. Following that General Whistler from the Marine Corps will be inducting over 125 recruits into the military, and then we have a very special Wounded Warrior tribute.

We have over 300 family members with Wounded Warriors at our game that we will be hosting in the south end zone thanks to the Air Power Foundation here locally, hosting with food and drink and everything. They are going to bring about 100 Wounded Warriors out on the field from half time, and it's not just from Afghanistan and Iraq; it goes all the way back to Vietnam, Korea. We have about 15 to 20 World War II veterans that will be with us, as well. It should be quite impressive for us to honor them.

But we are excited, excited about all the military and Armed Forces elements we have before the game and obviously the game itself, these two teams will put on a great show, you already know that.

THE MODERATOR: Returning to Fort Worth, any problems this year? What have you seen out there at Ritz Carlton.

BRANT RINGLER: It's a phenomenal stadium and it has a lot of new things we are able to enjoy, and the fans will be able to enjoy a lot of the amenities and the teams have already enjoyed that. Thanks to TCU and Coach Gary Patterson for opening the stadium up this week, due to the weather conditions, teams changed their plans for practicing at certain high schools in the area, and they opened up their indoor facility for us and it was truly appreciated. TCU has been a great partner and I want to say also thank you SMU the last few years, who really helped us in preparing for this year. Going to another stadium and learning about another stadium; that's what we did this year. We came back. Fort Worth is our home, coming back to a brand new stadium and we are having to learn new things, so we are excited about that, as well.

THE MODERATOR: Do you think the Dallas experience helped expand the coverage for people knowing about the Bowl game?

BRANT RINGLER: No doubt about it. It was an added bonus for us playing over there. But let's make this clear: Fort Worth is our home and we are excited to always be here.

THE MODERATOR: You talked about maybe next year, what's the future for the service academy?

BRANT RINGLER: Navy in 2013, and then also squared away for 2016. And we have Army in 2014 and 2017.

I'm sure moving forward, with all of the conference realignments, what's going to occur in 2014 and beyond as far as on the other side who will be playing, we have had a great relationship with the Mountain West Conference, with Conference USA and something along those lines we hope to continue.

THE MODERATOR: With ESPN getting involved in the basketball game over in Europe this year in Germany and you obviously ran it and so forth; do you think their involvement here has spurred them into doing more things?

BRANT RINGLER: Well, first of all, I didn't run it, but I appreciate that. They did call earlier this year and said hey, we want to set up a basketball game and we decided to call it the Armed Forces classic, the idea is to be a cross basis for every military branch and to take the game to them.

We started this year at Ramstein in Germany. We are working with Army right now, probably be in Korea or Alaska next year. But they did come to me and the fact that we have the relationship through the Armed Forces Bowl with the Department of Defense working with all of the various branches, and I was able to help them out on getting that going and align them with appropriate people to make sure we do the right things with the military.

THE MODERATOR: Well, actually you are answering to about four different parties, can you juggle all that at one time?

BRANT RINGLER: Trying. No way I can do it alone. Phenomenal staff, phenomenal volunteers and great corporate partners helping out in all ways. It takes a team to do this properly.

THE MODERATOR: Someone asked me, did you do it on purpose to bring in Theismann in as a speaker?

BRANT RINGLER: I'm a diehard Cowboys fan, and so I wanted to talk to him about this game. I'm sure he's going to give us some great comments about what's coming up on Sunday. It's a phenomenal game and I'll be pulling obviously for the Cowboys. We have a staff member that's a Redskins fan and we have been giving each other a hard time and looking forward to that.

THE MODERATOR: Somebody thought maybe there was too many Bowl games in this market. I think everything is co existing pretty good, and you've had some pretty good cooperation from the Cotton Bowl.

BRANT RINGLER: No doubt about it. They have been a friends of ours. They have their game that they have been around for 70 plus years and we are a fledgling compared to them, and the Heart of Dallas Bowl has done a great job and still getting off the ground.

THE MODERATOR: Talk about the trophy.

BRANT RINGLER: We started the trophy, this is the third year, the trophy actually made out of materials from the battlefield in Iraq. We have football as pieces of a tank shell melt down into that football. The logo on the front is the attack helicopter melted down into that, and so we can truly say the DNA of the battlefield is in our trophy. There is no other trophy like it in the world and it's something special for these things to take home.

THE MODERATOR: And obviously the teams get special uniforms, so you have to be happy about that.

BRANT RINGLER: The teams have been fantastic. They have bought into the concept of the thankfulness that we are trying to say to our Armed Forces. We have a beautiful helmet here with a B, the stealth bomber on it and I know we have got F 22s down the pant legs and Rice with the Americana helmet, they are saying their thank you in their own way, as well.

THE MODERATOR: As defending champion here in Fort Worth of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, we'll give you the floor first.

COACH CALHOUN: First of all, Brant, when I think I first found out about this opportunity back in the summer, we knew it would be a pretty special plateau I shouldn't say plateau, but really a goal, for our squad. We only had five starters coming back into the season, three back on offense two, back on defense and I remember about the first two weeks we were in August, we were a long, long ways away from being a Bowl team.

When we earned this chance, we knew we were going to a special place and we have been fortunate to come to Fort Worth, fantastic community, and a Bowl that's as hospitable as it gets and a place that most of all, I think absolutely embraces everything that you want in terms of the patriotic spirit.

I think what Brant has done, this community, to be able to really honor and respect their service members; for us to be able to be a part of it is a natural.

We feel extremely fortunate to have that opportunity, and yet at the same time, to be involved in a game where there's another school that's completely committed to young people when it comes to the academic part of it, and certainly their growth as young men and young women and that's pretty neat what they have done at Rice and on the football part of it, too. What a great job David and his staff have been able to really build within that football program.

I think you are going to see one heck of a football game, and you know, what's really neat is that if you identify some of these guys that are participants, to be able to follow them and see what they are doing ten years from now or 25 years from now is they will be remarkable leaders and contributors to our country, not only on active duty but within their community. So you'll have some fun with that down the road, too.

Honored to be a part of it. I remember when I first got to the Academy, somebody said, hey, realistically, these first five years, if you can catch lightning in a bottle one time, maybe you can get to a Bowl game.

We have a couple seniors that have been able to go to more than one Bowl game and certainly want to play well in their final game before going back to duty and serving as officers in the United States Air Force.

COACH BAILIFF: Brant, really I want to thank you and your staff, just an amazing job, rolled the red carpet out for us and John Garrison with Bell Helicopter.

This has been an unbelievable experience that both teams will remember and the memories will last for a life time. What you did, taking us to Billy Bob's, Reata Steakhouse, it's been a fabulous experience.

We are looking forward to the football game tomorrow. We are the same way and we have seven seniors on this football team and we set our goals to go to a Bowl game this season. It was one where we were 1 5 at one point and had to get on a roll, and we won five of the last six.

And it's a tribute to our seniors who every day when our football team came over there, we would not let them have bad days. We drew a line in the sand. We used a lot of the hard lessons early that put us on a roll late and we were absolutely honored when it was the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl extended us an invitation.

We are excited to be here. I think it is going to be a fabulous football game, playing a service academy, playing the Air Force Academy with the type of young men they have; they are those young men when they graduate here, they are going to go protect this country. I think our players at Rice are going into premed, and the engineers are very similar young men with high goals, just not for this game but for the rest of their lives.

We sure want to compete and we think it will be a very competitive game. We know the type of young men that the Air Force Academy attracts: They are going to fight you for 60 minutes, and you'd better be able to go toe to toe with them because it's not going to be over until the zeros hit on the clock.

But we are looking forward to getting this thing kicked off tomorrow at 10:45 kickoff, 6:45 pregame meal. We are excited, ready to go.

THE MODERATOR: Coach Calhoun with the weather, forced you inside for a couple of days. Did the weather change any planning for the Bowl game?

COACH CALHOUN: Not really. We did work inside there a couple of days over at Texas Christian and want to thank them for being a great host, also. I think for us, we realize it's a special opportunity. Any time you're able to play in a Bowl game, it's a neat, neat chance. Just the preparation part of it, we'll be ready to go. Everything that's built in, ought to be a reason why we play well.

THE MODERATOR: You practiced three days inside?

COACH BAILIFF: You know what, Houston is a cold weather environment, so it's something that we are really used to (Laughter). So we were just in there in shorts and tennis shoes. Actually we had to put on another layer of adidas; we were not quite used to this cold and there's a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of movement when you're practicing in the cold weather. But I don't think it's not going to be a factor. We are excited and I think our players prepared well.

THE MODERATOR: Don't know if this is true, but I think you've coached more games at Amon G. Carter Stadium than maybe at any place in the country outside Falcon Stadium. Do you feel like it's a home?

COACH CALHOUN: It's a great place. It's amazing to see the transformation that's occurred over the last two years. Golly, you think back in 2010 what that facility was, the setup and so forth, and just to change so rapidly and yet in a first class way, really in some ways, we are in a different place and yet at the same time, same location.

Q. Coach Bailiff, is the locker room still the same?

COACH BAILIFF: It's not. We are the visiting team in the visiting locker room. That stadium and facilities has probably some of the best fan amenities and player amenities that you've seen, and that's even when you walk into the visiting locker room, it gives you the 'wow' effect of you walking into an NFL venue. It's amazing and we need to thank TCU, too, for letting us use their indoor and their facilities while we were here.

THE MODERATOR: With the preparation for the Bowl game; there anything that stood out this time that surprised you about what has happened with your team?

COACH CALHOUN: Well, I think probably one of the biggest benefits, in the past, we have always been off Thanksgiving weekend and which our guys, all of our guys take at least 18 semester hours, the semester begins around August 8 and so the length of that semester, we certainly look forward to having a break.

The last two years, they have not been able to go home over Thanksgiving. So what we did, we wanted to make sure they had a few days to be able to go home and being able to send them for four nights from Wednesday to Monday or Thursday to Monday depending how their flights worked out, you get to see a little energy and enthusiasm.

THE MODERATOR: Same thing for you?

COACH BAILIFF: I tell you what has been remarkable. Just when you're sitting in a restaurant in Fort Worth and you see the Air Force Academy football team walking down the road and you see the Rice football team walking with them, I think they realize they are similar types of young men. And it's something you really don't see a lot where you have two opposing teams that are able to walk down the street, and I don't know that there's a lot of other Bowl games that that could happen in.

But I know that's another reason I think it's going to be one heck of a football game. I think you have 19 young men from Texas and there's a lot of young men on both teams that have known each other since high school, and I think that even adds some excitement for the teams as we prepare.

THE MODERATOR: You're facing the No. 2 rushing attack in the country. Air Force has all been noted for their ground game; anything special that you have to do?

COACH BAILIFF: Well, you know what, you'd better be assignment sound when they run option and you have to be a great tackling team, and you can't get distracted and think you know something. You have to have great discipline to attack the fullback, the quarterback, or the option. But at the same time, too, they throw the ball very efficiently and if you get distracted, they can hit you with a big play pretty quick when they need to.

So it forces you to you don't have a very extensive blitz menu, and you limit your calls, and that's what they do. They are very, very sound defensively. It's one where we have had a little extra time preparing and we'll see how that works. They are the least penalized team in the country, and they are not going to make a lot of mistakes and beat themselves.

THE MODERATOR: They have pretty much a balanced offense, do you have any team that you've played this year that's similar to what Rice is?

COACH CALHOUN: Well, they are their own engine and they are exceptional that way, too. I think probably the real test for us is just the size differential. As David mentioned, when you walk down the street, these guys are thick, they are bright eyed kids also and that's probably your No. 1 concern, just up front not getting overwhelmed with how much bigger they are.

Q. Get a health update from you guys, anybody back from this game that's been out for a while and what have you?

COACH CALHOUN: For us, we have Anthony LaCoste was a guy that missed like five games late in the season with a sprained MCL, and he ought to be fine and to be able to play. Austin Hayes, actually second starting center, he was hurt in the first game and he left in the México game and left I believe about October 20 and we are hoping he can return tomorrow. And Josh Kusan, starting inside linebacker for us, he had a sprained MCL and hoping that he's able to come back and he's able to practice all week long.

And then Conor Healy, him and Anthony LaCoste, are probably our two most productive special teams players, has been able to practice during all of our Bowl preparation. So hoping for him to be able to be a strong contributor, too. The guys that we do have that are out would be Joe Champaign, that had a pretty serious ACL injury in our final game. In addition to Joe, David Lore, our starting guard will be out, those two guys.

COACH BAILIFF: Drew Carol our starting right guard will be out and he started at that position and then we have Bryce Callahan, our starting cornerback is back. He's participated in our Bowl practices. He had injured his arm and he's cleared to go. And our tight end, Luke Willson, is back and cleared to play. And Vance McDonald and Taylor Cook, our tight ends, are all healthy again. So we are in pretty good shape health wise.

Q. David, can you address how this Bowl is different than your last trip in 2008? You had all the offensive stars in that game that were going to graduate after that game, but you alluded that you only had seven seniors.

COACH BAILIFF: We had those seven seniors that were very special young men that left us a foundation that we can build on. I think we are talented in our junior, sophomore and freshmen class. We are recruiting well. I think we are building something that's going to be a program of consistency where we can set our goals high every year to try to win a conference championship and go to a Bowl game.

In 2008, we just did not have great numbers on the football team when that class graduated and I think we are going to have some numbers now that are going to be able to sustain us and keep us competitive.

THE MODERATOR: Coach Calhoun, can you talk about the two players you brought today?

COACH CALHOUN: The two young men that joined us today from the academy, the starting defensive lineman from the Kansas City area, Nick DeJulio, he's our biggest guy, that's why I brought him today. And the other young man just graduated ten days ago from the Air Force Academy, and rarely do we have the chance to play with guys that had a nice semester. I think it's probably one of the major differences between an academy and regular university where you're able to redshirt and spend a little more development time, whether it's meeting time, so forth.

But Connor broke a bone on the back of his hand in October of 2009 playing a game, which made it difficult for him to do any kind of schoolwork and was able to gain an extra semester so he could complete a major at the academy.

So the other one is our quarterback, second lieutenant, not cadet, Connor Dietz.

COACH BAILIFF: Taylor McHargue is our starting quarterback. He's a junior this year. Had an injury earlier and when he came back, really got our swagger back and he's from the Austin area.

Jared Williams, one of our starting defensive ends, one of our seniors, very instrumental in the success we've had, and he's from the Huntsville area, and they are two quality young men.

Air Force Presser Player Quotes

Nick DeJulio, Defensive Lineman, 6-4, 240, Sr., Overland Park, Kan.

How did you decide to attend the Academy vs. other offers you had as you finished high school?

"It was really about coach Calhoun. He came to my high school, we talked, he's a great guy and a guy you would want to play football for. I am very happy I made the choice to attend the Academy. It has been a great experience, one I would never trade for anything."

The discipline, the structure you have to have to be a cadet at the Academy is a different than going to many other universities. Can you speak to that?

"Yeah, it's a little different at the Academy but it is something you know going in and just accept. The guys on the team, we are all dedicated to play football and represent the Academy in a good light. We understand what comes with the job when we come to Colorado."

What do you do to compensate for the size differences you will face against Rice, and do against every opponent almost every week?

"The size thing, you just gotta really trust your techniques. Following your assignments is really important. It's not something we focus on week-to-week because we usually face guys who are bigger than we are. It's not something we can let get into our heads because we can't do much about it. We play efficient, we try to play smart and that helps us.

"Technique, strength, mobility is a big part of that. Being a little smaller, you are usually a little quicker and that helps when you are facing bigger guys."

Conner Dietz, Quarterback, 6-0, 195, Sr., Columbus, Ohio

Being that the Academy is different than most university environments, how did you come to the conclusion that you wanted to attend Air Force?

"The Academy is different, obviously. From a recruiting aspect, the coaches let you know what is going on and let you in on things when they are recruiting you but until you actually go out there (Colorado Springs) and see for yourself and meet the guys on the team, that's what really sold me. I met several guys who were similar to myself and then I knew it was a great opportunity for me."

Air Force has a unique approach - a different kind of system than most college football programs. What was the process of you buying into the system the Falcons run?

"I think you have to buy into the system wherever you are. Going back to high school, I knew that if you didn't buy into the system, you weren't going to be successful. This is different system, sure, but Rice has its system and those guys have to buy into their philosophy and system. We have our philosophy and system and our way of doing things. If you don't want to buy into it, then we don't want you to be a part of us and you won't be successful anyway."

Did you play a similar kind of offense in high school?

"Actually, we did play a similar kind of offense in high school so it was an easier transition for me. We had success back then and I was confident in the system so it was good to keep with it."

You graduated a few weeks ago and are now a Second Lieutenant in the US Air Force. Does it feel any different now that you are a grad?

"I feel a little more at ease, I'll tell you, since I have graduated. It's a weight lifted off your shoulders. It's a big step and I am thankful and blessed enough to make that accomplishment with the help of many people. I couldn't have done it on my own. I'm happy to be sitting where I am right now.

"The next step for me is that I get sixty days of leave. I will be doing logistics at MacDill Air Force base in Tampa. Everybody asks me if I wanted to be a pilot but I like my feet on the ground. It's the next step for me and I am excited for it."


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