Mallard learning to take new job straight on
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Mallard learning to take new job straight on

AFAN newsletter on Air Force senior helping Falcons' offense spark fullback dive

Photo: Christian Mallard

Air Force fullback Christian Mallard felt he fully made the two-year transition from running back to begin his senior year. He's off to a good start proving it, too, with six carries for 53 yards in Saturday's season-opening 48-7 win over Colgate at Falcon Stadium.

Although starting fullback Tavin Birdow led Air Force with nine carries for 80 yards, fullback is a punishing position; Mallard provides depth.

He admits, though, he may have grown too comfortable in the third quarter. As the converted fullback broke into the clear on a 19-yard gain up the middle, his shifty, running back instincts took hold. He veered outside for what he thought was more green space, but he was instead tackled at the 10-yard line.

“I made a bad decision,” he said. “I should have continued running straight, and I probably would have had a touchdown. I tried to do too much. I still had a good gain, but I should have gone the whole 30 (29, actually) up the middle. I thought I had a better opportunity outside, but it wasn’t.” link

Running back Nolan Erickson finished the drive with an 8-yard scoring run on a day 16 Air Force backs carried the ball for 423 yards and seven touchdowns.

“We won,” said Mallard, a 5-foot-9, 215-pounder that is 20 pounds heavier from his running back days in 2017, “and everyone got to play.”

Air Force survived Mallard’s missed breakaway play, but it didn’t matter against an overmatched opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision. But the more significant development for Air Force was the success of the fullback runs. Air Force has modified its triple-option compared to Army and Navy with to two backs, but the fullback dive is still important to an option offense.

“It’s really important – the fullback starts the entire thing,” Mallard said. “If we can’t get anything going with the fullback, the defense is not going to key on the fullback. If we can work together with the offensive line and get something good going good, we fell like we can win a lot of games this year. Honestly, the offensive line opened so many holes anybody could have run through them.”

Air Force, which is coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons as it seek a return to bowl season, has a bye week, but holes will be tougher to come by when the Falcons play the Pac-12’s Colorado their next time out on Sept. 14 in Boulder.

Mallard said the Falcons are not only eager to test themselves against a Power 5 school, they view it as a chance to win a state title. Colorado State has played Air Force annually as Mountain West Conference members as well as having faced Colorado annually as an early-season non-conference game in Denver.

But this is the first time Air Force and Colorado have met since 1974. That spans three conferences for Colorado (Big 8, Big 12, Pac-12) and two for Air Force (WAC and MWC) in 45 years. Colorado (1-0) opened its season last week with a 52-31 win over Colorado State and is home again this week against Nebraska – a former Big 8 and Big 12 rival before conference expansion took them different ways.

“We've always played Colorado State and seen Colorado State playing Colorado," Mallard said. "This is our chance to show something."

Blocking is something Mallard has been working to show individually in his transition to blocking as a fullback.

“The difference is your blocking from a different angle,” Mallard said. “It’s a different mentality. You’re blocking anybody when they’re not expecting it. When you’re going straight for a linebacker, he knows you’re coming.

“It was hard at the beginning to change angles, but it’s about being aggressive and I’m an aggressive player. You have to show the linebacker a mentality to come straight at them.”

The annals of academy football featuring lightly recruited players that are high-achieving personalities are filled with players that didn’t enjoy their breakout year until their senior season. After not playing as a freshman in 2016, carrying the ball only for times for 21 yards and a touchdown in 2017 and 10 carries for 46 yards and a touchdown in 2018, the switch to fullback has Mallard is in position to top his career numbers early in his senior year.

“It's been a learning process to do what I have to do and doing it the best I possibly can,” Mallard said. “I did what the coaches felt was best for the team. I feel great about it.”

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I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055

Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light

-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.


Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.


David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in.”

Click here to purchase Raye of Light from August Publications 


Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom spent the bulk of his career in San DIego writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has covered NCAA Tournaments, Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, the NBA Finals and the World Series in a career that included writing for Voice of San Diego, the San Diego Hall of Champions and He contributes to the Detroit Free Press, Raleigh News & Observer,, and the National Football Foundation's Football Matters. He won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003. USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter presented its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans. It explains Duffy Daugherty's pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer: "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."