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.”
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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