Photo: Will Conant (30) was the Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year.
NFL aspirations are in the air these days with the NFL Combine for eligible college football players about to open Feb. 17-23 in Indianapolis.
Academy athletes aren’t routinely part of such a mix with their five-year military commitment awaiting them, and Air Force’s Will Conant says he is focused on serving his country following graduation on May 28. But he did impress NFL scouts with the decisive 12 points last month to lift his National team of college all-stars to a 26-14 win over the American team in the Medal of Honor Bowl played in Charleston, S.C.
“Being here, I’ve developed a sense that this school and this country have done a lot for me,” said Conant, a senior from Edmond, OK. “I don’t want to be wishy washy -- half in and half out. I made the decision to come here. I have to serve and I want to do it to the best of my ability.”
If Conant did have an eye toward pro football – academy athletes can apply for an early release after two years to pursue an NFL dream -- he plays a position that provides an advantage over most academy players. Well, actually he has two position advantages.
The Mountain West Conference Special Teams Player of the Year is a kicker and a punter.
But while it's true Conant won't have the body weight and muscle tone concerns of other NFL contact positions to overcome two years from now or even five, it should be noted the nuances of a kicking motion are similar to maintaining a golf swing and are not to be taken lightly.
“That door is one I don’t want to close, but it’s not my main focus,” Conant said. “I’ll think about it somewhere way down the line. I’ll stay in shape, and I plan on getting a football in my hands to fool around with it and get it on my foot.”
Conant’s field goals in the Medal of Honor Bowl were from 27, 21, 33 and 36 yards. That was consistent with the 6-foot-1, 215-pounder’s senior season at Air Force.
He finished the year hitting 18 straight field goals when he made a 39-yarder to beat Colorado State as time expired in the regular-season finale and followed with his only field goal try, a 31-yarder, in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl victory over Western Michigan.
For the year, Conant was 19 of 21 on field goals and 45 of 46 on PATs to lead the 10-3 Falcons in scoring with 102 points. On field goals, he was 8 of 8 between the 20 and 29, 8 of 9 from 30 to 39, 1-1 from 40 to 49 and 2 of 3 from 50-plus. As a punter, he was second in the Mountain West with an average of 43.8 yards per game.
“It was a surprise when I was invited,” he said. “It wasn’t a goal or anything I thought about; but when I got the email to participate, I thought it would be fun to play a game that I love and have a good time.”
But it wasn’t encouragement from NFL scouts that Conant appreciated most about the all-star game experience under the tutelage of veteran coaches.
“It was awesome to get a chance to meet coach DeBerry,” said Conant, referring to Fisher DeBerry, Air Force’s College Football Hall of Famer who was the Falcons' head coach from 1984 to 2006 and is a South Carolina native. “It was fun to talk with him about Air Force football. We talked about the CSU game, and he said that he had no doubt.”
Air Force’s 10-3 season and bowl victory was a turnaround from 2013 when the Falcons’ streak of six straight bowl trips under head coach Troy Calhoun – DeBerry’s successor – was snapped with a 2-10 record.
The double-digit victory season included two over Navy and Army to claim the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy. That’s especially important for a senior since only the seniors make the trip to the White House for the trophy presentation with the President.
But Conant likes the odds for future Air Force senior classes making such a trip to Washington, D.C.
“It’s incredibly bright,” he said. “We have the two best fullbacks in the country on the same team. We have a lot of good talent coming back. And you know our special teams we’ll be taken care of; Air Force always has good special teams. There is a lot of confidence around here.”