Air Force would've been challenging road for Chuckie Keeton
When the Aggies go to Falcon Stadium on Saturday, quarterback Chuckie Keeton will come face-to-face with the other path he could've taken.
The junior was once committed to play for Air Force football before switching his commitment in the fall of 2010. For a few months, he figured he would be a Falcon and eventually join the military after his football days were over.
But Keeton had a chance to imagine where that might've taken him in July at Mountain West media day, when he talked to two Falcons offensive linemen, Michael Husar and Austin Hayes. At the time, he said it was intriguing to see what his life might've been like.
"I asked them a lot of questions, and I have a lot of respect for those guys who go on to serve in the military," he said. "At the same time, I'm really, really happy with my decision to go to Utah State."
He has plenty of reasons to be happy: In his third season with the Aggies, he's morphed into a bonafide star in Logan, and the nation is starting to pick up on him after some strong performances in televised games. Utah State is running a Heisman campaign behind him.
But what would've Keeton's life been like as a cadet?
It would involve hard work and not a lot of free time.
It's not as if being a Division I athlete is easy, but going to school at the Air Force Academy is a bundle of commitments, not just one. Students face tough academic coursework on par with some of the nation's best schools. They take basic training - Husar said he lost 50 pounds during his basic training - and learn survival methods. They march at six in the morning, and they march to meals.
And then there's football.
"There's not a lot of time, but we've got to make it work," Husar said. "If you're a football player, it seems like every day, there's less than 24 hours to get it done."
While a number of Aggies have aspirations to play football after college, that's not on anyone's mind at Air Force Academy. Even conference championships and bowl games fall behind on the priority list compared to getting men ready to join the armed forces.
Both Husar and Hayes described the challenge of being a freshman, half the day doing push-ups and sit-ups, and half the day wondering if they could finish their four years. Gradually, the doubt faded away, but it's a challenge that every cadet faces. And the Falcons make no secret that it's a hard road.
"It's not something everybody should do," coach Troy Calhoun said. "It's just not. You're gonna go through days that you're awful or miserable. It's just gonna happen."
Ultimately, Keeton elected Logan over Colorado Springs, and has thrived with the Aggies. Like Keeton, some of the cadets were curious to see what the other side was like.
Hayes said he's had Christmas breaks when he's thought it might've been nice to be able to stay home for a few more weeks like other Division I athletes. But beyond that, he's not had any second thoughts.
"I'm glad I didn't go that route," Hayes said. "Football probably would've been a bigger deal, and I might have had more opportunities there. But I'm grateful for what I do have."
He only had a few days to meet Keeton, but Hayes said he came away with the impression that had Keeton gone to Air Force, he would've had success.
"He seems like a great guy," Hayes said. "You can be successful in the Air Force if you want to be. It doesn't take some special skill. You get through a lot of this stuff, and you get to know people. If you have that mental toughness, you can do it."
Kyle Goonkgoon@sltrib.comTwitter: @kylegoon