WR Alec Messerall

2003 Statistics

Coach: Fisher DeBerry
156-88-1, 20 years
2003 Record: 7-5
at Northwestern WON 22-21
at Brigham Young WON 24-10
at Navy LOST 25-28
at Colorado State LOST 20-30
UTAH LOST 43-45 (3OT)
at New Mexico LOST 12-24
at San Diego State LOST 3-24

2003 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2004 Outlook

On the surface, this has the makings of a very ugly season due to these Airmen lacking experience. But there are two factors that will keep it from not getting too ugly: no players are necessarily immature, just inexperienced; and Fisher DeBerry is one of the best coaches in college football. He will find a way to produce a winning campaign with these guys. There's more inexperience than usual, but the Falcons will put out a competitive product.

On offense, no one's sure yet who the quarterback will be. Whoever it is, it's likely no one outside of the Air Force has ever heard of him (but it was the same way with Chance Harridge). With speed and smarts at the position, whomever it winds up being can ultimately be successful. With five players green as grass, the offensive line has to be the biggest question mark, and its inexperience will cost the Falcons a game or two. The offensive style this squad runs - the Wishbone, which features a consistent triple-option - means that these men will become a unit, or die. This is why DeBerry has succeeded in the past, for he has consistently made a "team" quickly to compete as eleven strong.

Only three starters return on defense, but all is not lost there. All three will be prime all-MWC candidates, and each should lead the Falcon units they grace. Expect to hear more from defensive end Ryan Carter, as he'll shoulder the load on the line. The size of the LBs and DBs make the "last lines" of this defense strong. Air Force had a tendency in 2003 to score much bigger in the second and fourth, surging as halves ended. Win totals will change when they are not always rebounding from 25 prior minutes of unproductive efforts. Gaining consistency on both sides of the ball will be the barometer for seeing how the entire team is doing.

The Falcons didn't go to a bowl game last year, but finished with a respectable 7-5 record. This team won't win the MWC, but there's no reason to expect a dropoff. Tough tilts in September and October will yield a solid second half that will climax with a tough home date against MWC rival Colorado State that could very well decide the conference title. We hope they can get their wings underneath them by the time Navy comes to Colorado Springs on September 30th. That will be one great games of irony: this contest is to decide (besides the Commander-and-Chief trophy) which academic branch of the armed services - the Airmen or the Midshipmen - has the best ground attack. All in all, Air Forces recent run of success (58-28 since 1997 for the 18th most total wins in all of Division I-A during that span) makes most believe that any lull(s) will be minimal.

Projected 2004 record: 7-4
QB - 2 DL - 1
RB - 3 LB - 2.5
WR - 2 DB - 2.5
OL - 1.5 ..

Passing: Adam Fitch, 14-9-0, 112 yds., 1 TD

Rushing: Darnell Stephens, 120 att., 604 yds., 4 TD

Receiving: Alec Messerall, 21 rec., 328 yds., 3 TD

Scoring: Darnell Stephens, 5 TD, 2-two pt. conv., 34 pts.

Punting: Donny Heaton, 1 punt, 54.0 avg.

Kicking: none

Tackles: John Rudzinski, 65 tot., 31 solo

Sacks: Ryan Carter, Nelson Mitchell - 1.5 each

Interceptions: Dennis Poland, Nate Allen - 2 each

Kickoff returns: Alec Messerall, 13 ret., 20.9 avg., 0 TD

Punt returns: Matt Ward, 18 ret., 8.6 avg., 0 TD


LB John Rudzinski
OFFENSE: Adam Strecker-TE, Blane Neufeld-OT, Brett Huyser-OG, Stephen Maddox-C, Jesse Underbakke-OG, Brett Waller-OT, Chance Harridge-QB, Joe Schieffer-HB, Joey Ashcroft-K
DEFENSE: Monty Coleman-DE, Nick Taylor-NG, Charles Bueker-DE, Marchello Graddy-ILB, Trevor Hightower-ILB, Adrian Wright-FAL, Jeff Overstreet-CB, Larry Duncan-FS, Andrew Martin-P

Any chance Air Force had at having a predictable early season came to an end in April when junior Adam Fitch ruptured the Achilles tendon in his right leg during spring practice. Fitch, who is scheduled to be out until anywhere from late August to October, was the only returning quarterback with experience, as he replaced starter Chance Harridge and led the Falcons to a 22-21 win over Northwestern. Now, the Falcons will turn to inexperience (that has never taken a college snap). Junior Andy Gray and sophomore Luke Ewing will each take a shot, but it's not looking promising without Fitch, who would gives the Falcons a similar element to past running quarterbacks (i.e. Harridge, Blane Morgan, and Beau Morgan). Gray will open as the starter, and has speed and smarts, too, just not as tested since his two-year religious mission ended recently.

Running Back
Darnell Stephens and Anthony Butler are two powerful tailbacks who will take most of the pressure off whoever the quarterback will be. The duo combined in '03 to rush for nearly 1000 yards, and will therefore be asked to carry much of the early the load because of the quarterback inexperience. The X-factor here is the fullback in this wishbone. The Falcons will be unstoppable if the fullback(s) can rush for 100 yards per tilt - at least they have been over the years. Seniors Dan Shaffer, Adam Cole, and sophomore Jacobe Kendrick will all get carries, and each should power the Falcons to a(nother) top five rushing offense. Air Force is Air Force, and that means the Falcons will be able to run effectively no matter who's in the backfield.

Oh, the joy of playing wide receiver in the wishbone. In this offense, a receiver's main job will be to block (over 80% of the time on this squad), especially being needed on wide (option) plays to either side. Seniors Alec Messerall and J.P. Waller will make their catches count. There's no reason to expect either will have many more receptions this time, but the two are seniors that will make a young, inexperienced quarterback's job in this offense a bit easier. Jason Brown, a 6-foot-4 junior, gives the Falcons another capable threat downfield. Remember, in a basic Air Force formation, there's only one wide receiver on the field.

Tight End
The Falcons will look to fill the lost void here with junior Robert McMenomy, who has very little experience, but showed well in the spring. Any Air Force TE will not be asked to catch many passes, but he has to be solid as mobile linemen so as to block, block, and keep blocking. This crew is capable of doing any of the above-listed tasks.

Offensive Line
Of all the positions, this may be the one hurting the most. Not one starter returns. Only center John Peel started (part-time), and he wasn't even listed as first-string when he did. There might not be a positive here, except that three of the starters are juniors and should be ready to handle the challenge better than a true freshman would. Most have seen football combat, so it is hard to predict how they will respond as a unit if no one along the line has confidence/leadership. A team who head coach Fisher DeBerry calls "impressive in the weight room" has the talent to and will make this running attack work well, especially in the case of sophomore T Mark Koalenz. The return of John Wilson (shoulder rehab) will surely add more, but the unit will struggle until identity is found, which will be tough through September's tests.

Air Force is Air Force, no matter who the personnel is. The Falcons will run the wishbone and the option and will be able to have success moving the ball. Why? Because their formations are tough to stop when executed with their usual precision. You can't effectively simulate a wishbone or a triple option offense (unless it's also your main offensive set). The running backs will help newbie QB Andy Gray adjust, because it's looking like Adam Fitch won't see the field till October, if at all. The Falcons have one of the best rushing units in recent memory. Yet, it is not only has an unproven quarterback, but an unproven offensive line, too. The offensive line is more of a doubt as we sit now, but if there's any coach who can quickly get this unit playing together, its Fisher DeBerry, the 65-year-old coach who has guided the Falcons to 18 winning seasons. This offense will start out slow as players get adjusted, but this talented group of running backs won't be slowed down for ran entire game too often this year. When they find someone who can effectively run the triple-option offense from the quarterback position, then the offense can flourish. It won't happen early, but the offense will get better by the campaign's end.


HB Darnell Stephens


Returning Starters in bold
QB Andy Gray-Jr (6-2, 195) Adam Fitch-Jr (6-0, 190)
FB Dan Shaffer-Sr (5-11, 230) Adam Cole-Sr (6-0, 225)
HB Darnell Stephens-Sr (6-2, 195) Anthony Butler-Sr (5-9, 200)
Matt Ward-Jr (5-11, 175)
SB Kris Holstege-Jr (5-10, 190) Jason Boman-So (6-1, 205)
WR Alec Messerall-Sr (5-11, 190) J.P. Waller-Sr (6-3, 195)
Jason Brown-Jr (6-4, 210)
TE Robert McMonomy-So (6-4, 235) Robert Scott-Jr (6-3, 245)
OT Curtis Grantham-Jr (6-2, 275) Lee McKenna-Jr (6-4, 285)
OG John Wilson-Jr (6-4, 290) Curtis Grantham-Jr (6-2, 275)
C Mark Koalenz-So (6-2, 250) John Peel-Sr (6-2, 260)
OG Joel Lammers-Jr (6-4, 255) Tyler Dohallow-So (6-4, 270)
OT Ross Weaver-Jr (6-7, 295) Robert Kraay-So (6-7, 295)
K Michael Greenaway-Sr (5-10, 175) Taylor Brown-Jr (6-2, 205)



Defensive Line
Yikes! The defensive line also returns no one who has ever started a game. Senior Ryan Carter had modest, but quality numbers while seeing starter's minutes. He'll be the initial unquestioned leader on this line - he's got the most experience. Gilberto Perez is, "…going to be the next big time player we have…" according to DeBerry. This unit isn't as green as the offensive line, but close enough. Look for improvement overall by season's end, though, for, once gelled, they are capable of lowering the prior-group's rushing ranking of 75th nationally.

Inside linebacker John Rudzinski will be one of the best linebackers in the MWC and is setting himself up for an All-America season. He played with an ankle injury in '03 and racked up 65 tackles. Teams will run away from him, though, for not only is he good, but he's the only one with quality minutes. Rudzinski is also a fast linebacker, and since he's recovered from his injury, he'll be that much more pass-effective. The rest of the unit has good size and mobility, too. Seeing how these guys will be bolstering the run-support areas as the line sets, look for teams to test the LB's underneath coverages early.

Defensive Back
The Falcons employ five defensive backs. Poland, the Falcon Back (rover) has the size and makings to thwart any dimension team's throw at him, and he is only a junior. Allen is the secondary's leading returning tackler and has big-play potential, as well, seeing how he intercepted two passes, including a 79-yard return for a touchdown. This unit will aptly anchor the defense, even if it isn't that much more experienced than the linebackers and defensive line. Problem will come early when the secondary has to commit someone to run-support and they get lit up, accordingly. Trials-by-fire this way will pay dividends by mid-September.

Inexperience looms heavily, but there's plenty of skill to go around. Once it develops into on-the-field talent, the Air Force defense should be as solid as it usually is (41st total defense, 24th scoring defense in 2003). Each unit is green, but each has that needed leader in Nate Allen (secondary), John Rudzinski (linebackers) and Ryan Carter (line) to push them into maturity. It's much easier for players to become "seasoned" on defense, and the Falcons will have another strong crew by the end. One problematic stat DeBerry & Co. must fix is allowing opponents a 47% success rate on third-down conversions.


CB Nate Allen


Returning Starters in bold
DE Ryan Carter-Sr (6-2, 250) Erik Anderson-Jr (6-8, 280)
NG Russ Mitscherling-Jr (6-2, 260) Gilberto Perez-So (6-3, 275)
DE Nathan Terrazone-Sr (6-3, 240) Nelson Mitchell-Jr (6-1, 260)
ILB Kenny Smith-Sr (6-3, 240) Overton Spence-So (6-2, 230)
ILB Cameron Hodge-Jr (6-2, 225) Richard Ricciardi-So (6-1, 230)
ILB John Rudzinski-Jr (6-2, 230) Joseph Keller-So (6-1, 215)
RF Dennis Poland-So (6-3, 215) Tyler Hess-Jr (5-11, 190)
LF John Taibi-Jr (6-2, 205) Sean Rodgers-Sr (5-11, 195)
CB David Conley-Sr (5-11, 185) Cole Marton-So (6-0, 180)
CB Nate Allen-Jr (5-10, 180) Chris Huckins-So (5-11, 180)
FS Mark Carlson-Jr (6-0, 200) Beau Snyder-So (5-11, 180)
P Donny Heaton-Jr (6-3, 180) Darin Lister-Fr (5-10, 160)




Two-year starter Joey Ashcroft was one of the more successful kickers in Air Force history. The names to replace him include kickoff man Michael Greenaway, Scott Eberle, Daniel Wasson, and Taylor Brown. Wasson is a soccer player for the Falcons. Predicting how well the kicking game will go is always a crapshoot, but someone should emerge strongly from this competitive group.

Donny Heaton punted once for 54 yards last season and will be looked upon to produce like the steady Andrew Martin did. There will be no dropoff here.

Return Game
Messerall was/is the team's top kickoff returner. Running back Matt Ward will be the punt returner. Neither posesses consistent, big-play talent, so this dimension will be mediocre. Overall, the special teams will be a liability with the offense and defense already shaky.