It’s hard to tell Air Force quarterback Tim Jefferson is the starting signal caller for a Division 1 FBS team, and has been since his freshman year. Maybe it’s a misperception, but you expect a certain level of braggadocio. It’s missing when you sit down with Jefferson inside his dorm on the Colorado Springs, Colo., campus.
“You wouldn’t know he is the starting quarterback if you walked past him on the street. He is just so humble,” said a master sergeant working at the Air Force Academy.
That comment took me by surprise because enlistees working at the academy don’t often heap unwarranted praise on cadets.
Jefferson sat down with After Action before the season to give us an idea of how he thought the Falcons might fare as the team starts a tough first half schedule that includes BYU, Oklahoma and Navy, one of the harder schedules in the country.
On Saturday, Jefferson and the Falcons got off to a good start pasting BYU 35-14, scoring 28 unanswered points after the Fightin’ Mormons got off to a 14-7 lead.
Below is the conversation we had on the season, his decision to attend Air Force over Navy and why he wants to fly C-17s.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming season?
Long summer. Lots of fall practices. It’s going to be great to get out there and hit somebody from the other team for the first time in a long time. We have the chance to be really good this year, and it all depends on how the offensive line comes around.
How do they look so far?
They have been doing pretty well. I’m excited to see how well they do in the first game. That will determine how far we go this season.
What do you think about the front half of your schedule?
The front half of our schedule is a little bit loaded, but if we get through the September and October and we go undefeated through that part of the season, we have a great chance at a 10-win season and doing big things.
I don’t really have any personal goals.
Definitely, win the conference and get Commander-in-Chief’s trophy back is up there as well. We’re a little bit heated about not getting our trophy back. Navy is coming here, and we go to Army, so it’s going to be a tough fight.
Army is improving…
Army are coming around and their coach, Coach Ellerson, is definitely transforming them into a better program than what they were in the past.
Any consideration leaving the Academy for a more traditional school after your sophomore season?
I never considered leaving because I always knew my main goals were to come here and to get a pilot slot for pilot training. That is still my No. 1 goal.
What do you want to fly?
Why the heavies?
I have never been a roller-coaster type of guy, and I figured fighter jets are more like roller coasters, and I don’t really like that too much. I did get a chance to get a C-17 ride this summer over at Dover Air Force Base, and I kind of felt those pilots, the C-17 pilots, tried to treat the plane like a fighter jet. It’s amazing what those planes can do.
How long were you in Dover?
I was there for about three weeks for Operation Air Force.
What did you take from that experience?
It’s a good opportunity to shadow officers and see what they do on a daily basis and I realized that they things that they do is not the same as we do because obviously ours is an academy setting. But the whole concept is pretty much the same with the Air Force. You have a job to do. Get your job done, and they take pride in doing what they have to do.
Last year there was more of a two quarterback system after you started your freshman year. How do you think that will work out this year?
I don’t know yet. We’ll have to see how that goes in an actual game setting and see what Coach Calhoun decides to do for the quarterback situation.
Were you worried this offseason that Coach Calhoun might go to Tennessee?
I never had any doubts that he would leave here just because he has a great job on his plate with job security and the people that he gets to work for.
The highest paid guy in the Air Force…
Maybe the whole department of defense, but the people he gets to work with, he would never trade that for anything else so I never had a doubt that he was going to stay here.
What’s the intensity like in camp right now?
Yesterday was a little bit more intense. Yesterday, afterwards, he gave us a fiery speech that was different because I have never seen him give us a speech like that before, but he is trying to motivate us and sometimes you just gotta do what you have to do.
Do you take extra motivation from the hype Navy is getting this offseason?
Our motivation will come the week of Oct. 2 when we see that trophy is on the line. I don’t think there is any motivation right now because we are not looking at Navy we are focused on Northwestern State and then next week is BYU so there is no time to be looking ahead at all.
The needs to balance football and the academy, do they change when you become an upperclassman?
In a way you have to mature a little bit more because you start to become more of a leader and the roles in the squadron and around the cadet wing. It’s all the same from the first day. You have to be able to balance your time with your work studies and football especially. It’s still tough. It’s really not that much different at all.
What is your leadership position this year?
Usually during the Fall semester our leadership position is a little bit lighter because they want to give us a little bit more time to focus on football, but in the Spring semester that is our time to shine. That is our time to take big time roles around the wing. Hopefully, I’ll get placed with a pretty important job in the second semester.
Is there one you would like to get?
Not anyone in particular. We’ll just have to wait and see.
How did the recruiting process go to bring you to the Academy? Did you have your eyes set here?
Actually, I knew about the academy, but I didn’t give any thought to going here. I always wanted to be a pilot since I was four or five years old. Actually, the recruiting coach, he found me at my school and he offered me a scholarship right on the spot and I figured that is a perfect opportunity. It gives me a chance to play football and become a pilot in the future.
What were your other D-1 offers?
Central Florida, UAB, Navy, of course, and a bunch of ther FCS schools along the East Coast.
Why did you pick Air Force over Navy?
Because, one, I didn’t want to spend six months at a time on a ship. And also I wanted to fly and that was the biggest reason. I actually almost was about that close to going to Navy. I changed my decision on Signing Day and I just felt like Air Force was in my heart and Navy wasn’t. I really didn’t get along with the Navy coaching staff at the time. Paul Johnson was the coach at the time. It was difficult, though, because Coach Calhoun had just been hired and I didn’t really know what to expect and what offense he was going to run. And my high school background was the triple option so the Navy offense would have been the better fit because I had no idea what Air Force was going to do. It just came down to going with what my heart said and with me wanting to fly led me to come here.
How did that experience in the triple option help you in your freshman year?
I definitely picked up the option game much quicker than some of the others. But it was more of the traditional stuff that we do is a little bit different but I picked it up pretty quickly and started my sixth game against San Diego State.
How does the travel work out balancing the academic rigors?
We bring tutors with us. We have tutors with us on the plane and the team hotel. We all bring our books with us so we can study while we are there because we really can’t afford to get too far behind. They set us up for success here.
Do you think there is a separation at the Academy between athletes and non-athletes?
I will say in the past, in previous year, like three or four years ago, it was probably a bigger deal than it is now. Now, you don’t hear about it as much. We call it the Terrazzo Gap, the athletes and the non-athletes. You don’t hear about it nearly as much as you did so I think it’s becoming a lesser issue around the cadet wing. Hopefully, we can get it to where it is not an issue at all.
What has changed?
I don’t know. Maybe our previous commandant of cadets and our current commandant of cadets were both athletes when they were here. Our current superintendent was an athlete when he was here. The Prep School Commander was an athlete when he was here. The Dean of Faculty was an athlete.
You’re setting yourself then to be the Supe…
That was never part of the plan. (laughs)
Where would you want to be based?
I have no idea.
When do you find out about pilot training?
We find out our jobs at the end of junior year and we find out about our base at the end of our senior year.
Have you been following Chad Hall and Ben Garland and have you considered that as an opportunity to go to the NFL?
I have always told myself that if I had the chance to go to the NFL and if I had the same chance to go to pilot training. Very much the same situation that Ben is going through I told myself I would go to pilot training just because going to pilot training is something I’ve always wanted to do and I have never really given it much thought about going to the NFL just because it is not nearly as secure of a job. But at the same time I realize I don’t have to actually have that opportunity so I am a little bit biased but if I did have that opportunity I don’t know how I would react to it.
Do you see Ben around a lot?
He swings by a lot. I actually saw him Saturday. I saw Chad this summer, so they show up when they can.
Do many alumni come back to work with the team?
It’s tough because they are out there working but we see people every now and then. It’s not an everyday thing but occasionally they will come by and it’ll be like that guy used to play here, his picture is on the wall.
Playing the Oklahomas of the world, you have the obvious size disadvantage. What is that like?
It’s all a football game. You don’t play games on paper. You can’t look at the size of an opponent and determine who is going to win the game because if that’s the case than we should technically lose every single game cause we are smaller than just about everybody that we play. We just have to play within ourselves and just go out there and have fun because if we are not having fun we won’t have a chance.
What is the vibe of the team this year opposed to others?
It is about the same. We have a lot of team unity. Everyone supports everyone else. I don’t really know how to put it. We are just one big family. That’s how most teams are because you can’t be separated. You have to support each unit on the field because each unit is a vital part of the team.
I’m a big fan, Tim.