Air Force Academy and athletes ?


10-Year Member
5-Year Member
Oct 24, 2008
My son is being recruited to the Air Force Academy as an athlete. We have no military history in our family. He went for a visit and seemed to have a great time, came home said AFA was on the top of his list ( he has other D1 athletic opportunities) All of a sudden he is saying he isn't sure that he wants to do the "Acdemy". He said no one really looked happy there when he was visiting. I believe he is missing out on a great opportunity and want to assure him that work now will pay off later, but we don't know anyone who attended so it is kinda hard for him to relate. Any thoughts on your first year, and did you actually smile, or was it pure hell, as he seems to think it will be. Also are athletes treated slightly better from their older teammates ?

I'm an ALO in Arizona and can answer most questions.

Athlete's at AFA, as at most college/universities are treated a "bit" differently. While they're in season, they usually take meals together, are excused from certain military training events so they can practice, etc.

That being said they also have one of the hardest "work loads" in the NCAA. Why? Because being an athlete in college is tough anyway. NOW...add in the military and academic load of the academy...OUCH!

I know, I was a two sport athlete when I got there; when I graduated, I had dropped both sports. I just couldn't do both athletics and academics. That was me; I have many classmates that COULD do both and a couple are ALL America athletes. Just depends upon the individual.

I can be reached offline at: if you have any specific questions.

Hope this helps!


Stephen E. Wood, Lt Col, USAFR
Deputy Liaison Officer Director for Arizona
I'd like to add to that a little. 1st and most importantly, the academy must be what your son wants to do. In other words, if he wasn't being recruited at the academy to play a sport, would he want to go there? If not, then I really encourage you to help him find a different school where he will be happiest. My son said he is glad he turned down other schools. He said he would rather come to air force and never play football again, than to go to certain other schools and play football. His #1 priority at the academy is to get the best education he can and to become commissioned as a military officer. He then has other goals once he is commissioned. Personally, that is the way I believe it should be. The fact that he also gets to play football is just an added benefit.

Fortunately for my son, he was accepted to the air force academy with an appointment in hand the first week of november. So, even though coaches had been talking to him about options, he already got in and was given an appointment prior to even his high school football season being over. Of course that please the coaches. (They didn't have to try and persuade him to accept an appointment; nor did they have to HOPE he could get accepted and receive an appointment. (That is very difficult. Many people don't get accepted and receive nominations). My son knew he made it with his grades, class rank, etc... Being the academy was what he wanted to do for school and later a military career, it was pretty much a no brainer. He turned down a lot of full ride and large scholarships to other schools. Including the ability to play football for them.

Does he sometimes think what it would be like to be playing football at another school? Most definitely. But he says he would never trade this opportunity. So, your concern whether you think your son is missing out on a great opportunity is a double edge sword.

1) The military academy is not for everyone. It doesn't matter if you are the #1 in your class with the 4.0, IB/AP, etc.... I know people who have left the academy and enrolled in Harvard and Yale. The military academy wasn't for them.

2) A military life style, with a minimum commitment of 5 years service to his country, after a 4 year education, MUST be his number 1 priority. Any sport, activity, benefits, etc... must come second. If not, he will probably regret his choice. I have personally seen some of our athletes quit the academy within months because they didn't get to start/play like they thought would happen. Or, outside of sports was too much for them to handle. Again, sports and everything else MUST come second to the desire to serve your country.

3) Most importantly, this has to be his decision. He can't make this type of decision because it will please you. There are actually some that walk in on the first day of basic and admit that they don't really want to be there. That they are doing it only for their parent or such. They will probably become miserable and not do as well.

Remember; there are those that get accepted and go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc... that realize that isn't for them. Same with the military academies. Same with college in general. There are just as many "Opportunities" for your son at State U; Harvard; University of Wherever; Community College; etc... Don't let the prestige of the academy or the name of the school distort your view of what is most important. That your son continue his education; either formally; vocationally; or through experiences; and that he is happy and fulfills whatever his dreams are. If that dream is serving in the military, then excellent. If not, so be it. There's a lot of people who "Want" the military academies. There's also a lot of coaches that "Want" players to be cadets. That doesn't mean that it's the right choice. Hope this doesn't provide even more doubts and confusion. later... mike....
Christcorp has hit a perfect "Shack" with this message!

Good post by Christcorp...

This comment struck me:
All of a sudden he is saying he isn't sure that he wants to do the "Acdemy". He said no one really looked happy there when he was visiting.

Allow me to add a few thoughts. This is only October, give your son time to come to a decision. He has until May 1. Encourage him to use this time to explore service academy life and military life. There are many good books.
This is not just choosing a college but choosing a career and a way of life.
Make sure he explores ALL options including civilian schools.
Some kids go into this without a second thought while others question their decision. The time for questioning is now.

As far as cadets being happy/unhappy - I have come to the conclusion that service academy kids are at once the happiest and unhappiest. They quickly learn military bearing and how serious their job of school and becoming a commissioned officer is. However, they do have fun times. Even in a restricted environment they have fun and lots of it. My daughter says "You have to make your own fun".

I am not sure what AFA does for visiting - did you go on an official recruiting visit? I think in the spring they have an orientation for accepted candidates as well.

It is most important that your son come to his decision freely. As a parent, you can help to provide information and good discussion to allow him to come to his decision.
my son was also a recruited athlete, but on his visit he spent time with both freshmen and senior athletes and heard both sides. Of course the freshmen complained about how tough it was, while the time he spent with the senior players eased his concerns as they told him how much better it gets after that. He is currently playing at the prep school which has actually been good for him, as it has given him the chance to adjust to both military life, the demands of a much more diffucult academic load as well as balancing athletics. He has made some terrific friends and while there have been a few who decided that the military wasn't for them, these young men who have stayed, feel a comraderie and team mentality which is extremely refreshing. they are all very excited about heading up the hill next season-year, and realize it truly is a scholar-first athlete second situation.
Congrats FalconFather on your son being at the academy prep school. The prep school is one of those double edged blessings in disguise. It not only is a great place to get use to the military academy and such without a true commitment, but it's a great PSEUDO REDSHIRT year for football athletes. (Non-football players don't really have the same issues with playing college sports). Football players come out of the prep school ready to play on the varsity team at the academy. They are a year older and bigger than the other freshmen.

However, for those who graduate high school and get a direct appointment to the academy; because all the blocks are required for such; they have the luxury of being able to do four years and not have to spend that 5th year in school. But from an athletic standpoint, the prep school is the greatest thing there is. Many people don't realize how many football players on the falcons were at the prep school Shawn Carney, Ryan Harrison, Tim Jefferson, Ashton Clark, etc... That's why it's so easy to put many of them in this year. Of course, we also have some TRUE freshman on the team also. But even Col Senn (Head Coach JV and Asst Coach Varsity) went to the prep school. He was also one hell of a receiver with some records.

Anyway; congrats on your son. The prep school is a great option. Academically, it helps many with that specific area they need to improve on for college. For some, it's a great way to prepare for military school and service. For athletes, it's great for getting a "Red Shirt" type year in. So, for your son, it's great all around. Congrats. later... mike....
Thanks everyone for the responses, maybe he was just having a bad week at school ? This weekend he wore his AF sweatshirt everywhere and told everyone he was going to school there ? He has been out for an official visit, he did enjoy that, but weeks later he recanted said no one seemed to enjoy life there ? I think deep down he is afraid of the work load. He is a very competative student and athlete but worries about managing both with the other requirements. Also at the other D1 schools they are promising him a tutor, are there tutors at USAFA ?
are there tutors at USAFA

Oh gosh yes. Yes, yes.
This is the best kept secret about our service academies: They will NOT admit you unless you are capable of graduating AND they will do everything in their power to help you succeed academically.

weeks later he recanted said no one seemed to enjoy life there
Suggestion: Turn this around and ask him if he means he is afraid he won't enjoy life there.
Football players come out of the prep school ready to play on the varsity team at the academy. They are a year older and bigger than the other freshmen.

But from an athletic standpoint, the prep school is the greatest thing there is. Many people don't realize how many football players on the falcons were at the prep school Shawn Carney, Ryan Harrison, Tim Jefferson, Ashton Clark, etc... That's why it's so easy to put many of them in this year. Of course, we also have some TRUE freshman on the team also.

For athletes, it's great for getting a "Red Shirt" type year in.

One thing that should be made clear -- prep schools (AF, Navy or otherwise) do NOT exist for the purpose of red-shirting football players. They are there to provide students with the additional academic preparation they need in order to succeed at their chosen SA. USNA's prep school was specifically designed to help enlisted personnel make the academic transition to USNA and I believe that the majority of its students are enlisted "transitionees."

If memory serves (someone correct me if I'm wrong), USAFA got into "trouble" a number of years ago for using its prep school to stash football players. Again, if memory serves, the then-Secretary of the Air Force decreed that, going forward, the percentage of football players at the prep school had to mirror the percentage at USAFA. That change may help explain USAFA's reversal of fortune on the gridiron the past several years.

If your post is intended to suggest that prep schools are a good deal because they help football players prepare for the rigors of academics at their chosen Academy, I would agree with you. However, if you suggesting that SA prep schools, which are paid for with taxpayer dollars, are intended to improve an SA's football fortunes, you do a disservice to the schools and their attendees. And those type of comments may lead to those schools being shut down.
There is a reason USAFA is consistently rated as having the most accessible professors! "EI" (extra instruction) is available to every cadet. Instructors work roughly 0730-1630 every day. They are expected to be available for the majority of the time they are not teaching classes. The only time I have been turned down a scheduled EI appointment was when the instructor had to go to a meeting called by a 3 star general, and he immediately rescheduled the EI session for another convenient time.
Every cadet squadron also has a tutoring program.

Yes, our workload is significant. We do face a lot of time demands (especially athletes). However, there are an abundance of opportunities to seek academic help.
USNA; The subject of the thread was about the academy and athletes. I was responding SPECIFICALLY to a poster who mentioned his son was at the Prep school and was ALSO an athlete. All my comments about the prep school and athletics; hence a red shirt type year, were specifically for that poster. Please don't read into it.

By all means the prep school is exactly as the name applies a school to prepare you for the academy. What is MOST IMPORTANT to note is; you CAN'T apply to the prep school. The prep school is usually offered to an applicant who usually excels in their application, but for one reason or another may have a particular weak area. Usually academically. Those who are selected for the prep school are usually the highest competitive of those not selected for a direct appointment. They are Not the "Average" student. They are better than that.

The fact that the poster mentioned his son was also an athlete, allowed me to point out other POSITIVES about the prep school. I have been accused from most people who have ever met me as be the "Eternal Optimist". I find the good in EVERYTHING. There's a lot of people who get discouraged when they don't get an appointment to the academy. Even those who are offered a slot at the prep school feel a bit like it's "Second best". I was simply pointing out many of the positives of the prep school. And with the topic being about athletes, that it happens to be an added bonus if the person happens to be an athlete. Again, don't read into it. later./.. mike.....
UANA 1985 My post was intended to answer the question about academic's and athletes. Of course the AF prep or any SA prep is not designed to accomodate "red shirt years" but with my son in particular, he had great grades but was a bit low on his verbal, thus preventing him from direct entry in to the academy. Christcorp simply was stating that it can be beneficial to the student athlete who may not be prepared for the rigors of a whole new life of extremely difficult academics, mixed with the load of military responsibilities and the time for athletics. I don't think it is fair to generalize that AF simply warehouses athletes in the prep program .
My twin sons are on the fencing team this year and I can truthfully say they have never worked so hard between the daily practices, the traveling (limited so far), and all their other responsibilities. But, that being said, even when I offered them each a brand new car if they'd come home and finish at Pitt in 2 years, they both said, "Are you crazy? I love it here." Perhaps your child was really shocked at the intensity these kids display, since it is seldom seen at Flagship U, or even Liberal College.

If you'd like, you can p.m. me with specific questions and I'll try to answer them.
I am currently a 4 degree at USAFA. You get out of the Academy what you put into it. There are people here that do have a miserable time and hate it, but there are also people here that love USAFA and are enjoying almost every minute of it. Keeping a good attitude and not getting cynical will get you through. I was able to smile through most of BCT and keep myself happy. I actually enjoyed beast for the most part and I would be willing to do it over again. Everybody is bound to have a few bad days here every now then, but you have to learn how to handle those days and ignore them. Even as a 4 degree, you still find ways to have fun and enjoy yourself (of course sometimes you might get in trouble for some of that fun, but its part of the game). There are definite perks of being an Intercollegiate Athlete (IC) but there are also downsides in my opinion. I would kill to have an IC academic schedule. They have classes only in the mornings which is great, but the afternoon periods are taken up by practice usually. They eat lunch with their respective teams and don't eat at attention which is another plus depending who you ask. IC's usually don't get back to the squadron until right before ACQ (Academic Call to Quarters) meaning they don't have that extra time during the day to do homework so they have to figure out how to manage that well. They do get out of practically every training session during the week and that can be a good or bad thing. Training sessions are no fun, but they are good for bonding within your squadron. I hopes this helps you and if you wanna know anything about 4 degree life, just ask.