Boise State has The Hammer. Air Force has a Steelhammer.
Senior safety Weston Steelhammer is the nation’s active leader in career interceptions (17). In two meetings against Boise State, he has 11 tackles and three interceptions, both coming in Falcons wins over the past two seasons.
Steelhammer also happens to own of one of the most spectacular names in college football. He was named to Athlon Sports’ All-Name team in 2015, and was given second- team honors in 2016. He’s heard about his name more than a few times.
“I think 8 billion is probably an understatement,” Steelhammer said. “There’s quite a few good ones (out there). I don’t really keep up with it.”
But behind every great moniker is an even better football player.
Steelhammer is the heart and soul of a Falcons secondary that has befuddled Boise State in their last two meetings. Sophomore quarterback Brett Rypien had one of his worst games in the 2015 matchup, completing 47.9 percent of his passes and throwing for 237 yards.
In 2014, Air Force forced seven Boise State turnovers, with five of those coming on interceptions thrown by Grant Hedrick and Ryan Finley.
“That guy’s a ball hawk. He’s around the ball all the time, makes plays. Very good football player, very smart,” Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin said. “We’ve seen this guy the last couple of years and he plays extremely hard for them and really leads them in the back end there.”
Playing in what will be his last home game, Steelhammer is hopeful for one more slice of magic against the Broncos on Friday (1:30 p.m., CBSSN). It’s the final regular season game for both teams.
“It’s going to be a bittersweet moment. It is going to be our last one at home for 32 seniors. But we have to approach it just like any other game. I think we have to keep the distractions to a minimum,” Steelhammer said. “We’re going to do what we do and they’re going to do what they do. We’re going to have to be at the top of our game, that’s for sure.”
Steelhammer is tied for the school record in interceptions while his 211 tackles rank sixth in program history. His six interceptions this year are tied for third in college football.
“Very good ball player. Good, physical. He’s got a lot of experience. Very football savvy. Obviously, he’s around the ball a lot. (He) kind of does it all for them. He’s definitely one of those guys we’re looking at on film and making sure we know where he’s at,” Boise State co-offensive coordinator Zak Hill said. “He’s one of those guys that you highlight each week.”
With so much on the line in Friday’s game, the Mountain Division hanging in the balance for Boise State (10-1, 6-1 Mountain West) and the opportunity to beat the Mountain West’s premier program three straight times on-the-line for the Falcons (8-3, 4-3), Steelhammer is doing his best to treat his final home contest as just another game.
“Just another game” with Boise State, however, is a challenge in itself. With playmakers like Jeremy McNichols, Thomas Sperbeck, Cedrick Wilson and Rypien, the Broncos bring a lot to the offensive side of the ball.
“Slowing them down is definitely not an easy task,” Steelhammer said. “They’ve definitely showed that in every game.”
Air Force is already bowl-bound with eight victories, so Steelhammer has two games left before his storied career comes to a close. He’s also hopeful that the end of his college career won’t be the end of his football career.
Last May, the Department of Defense amended a rule to say that service academy graduates could request to enter the Ready Reserve upon graduation to fulfill their service requirement. Previously, graduates who wanted to play professional sports served 24 months of active duty before applying to serve in the Selective Reserves.
Steelhammer is hopeful he gets the chance to continue playing football.
“I’m not going to close any doors. But if it happens, it happens. I think that’s the beauty of going to place like this. When football ends, it’s not the end,” Steelhammer said. “I definitely would pursue the opportunity if it presented itself.”
Air Force Falcons at a glance
As always, Air Force boasts an exceptional rushing attack. The Falcons are No. 4 in the country, averaging 323.5 yards per game on 5.18 yards per carry. Five players have at least 430 yards rushing in Air Force’s triple-option attack, led by Jacobi Owens (737 yards, three TDs) and Timothy McVey (606, 10). The Falcons sit No. 5 in the nation in third-down conversions at 52.1 percent.
Senior quarterback Nate Romine leads the Falcons with 1,206 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions, but missed last week’s game against San Jose State with an ankle injury. Dynamic sophomore Arion Worthman filled in against the Spartans, rushing for 215 yards and two touchdowns while tossing a touchdown. Worthman is fourth on the team with 523 yards rushing (and six TDs).
Wide receiver Jalen Robinette (6-foot-4, 215 pounds) has accounted for 52.7 percent of Air Force’s receiving yards (790 of 1,500 yards). His 26.3 yards per reception ranks No. 1 in the nation. Robinette had two receptions for 79 yards and a score in last season’s 37-30 win over Boise State.
Air Force’s defense is once again led by safety Weston Steelhammer, who leads the team with 71 tackles and six interceptions (tied for third in the nation). His 17 career interceptions are most among active FBS players. The Falcons surrender 27.3 points per game, about two points more than they gave up in 2015 (25.5). Air Force’s 14 interceptions are tied for No. 16 in the country.
Player to watch: Arion Worthman, QB
Worthman has played well under center, particularly as a runner. He’s averaging 6.3 yards per carry this season; Romine, the normal starter who missed last week with an ankle injury, averages 2.9. Worthman has 24 pass attempts this season compared to 83 rushes.
“He’s jumped right in there and done a great job for them. He’s been in there and they’ve been on a roll. ... You have a great athlete back there that is running the offense at a very efficient pace right now,’’ Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said
Live Boise State football chat Wednesday night
Ask Statesman college football writers Dave Southorn and Michael Katz questions about Boise State, Air Force and the postseason at 7 p.m. IdahoStatesman.com
No. 20 Boise St. at Air Force
- When: 1:30 p.m. Friday
- Where: Falcon Stadium (46,692, FieldTurf), Colorado Springs, Colo.
- TV: CBS Sports Network (Carter Blackburn, Aaron Taylor, Jenny Dell)
- Where to find CBS Sports Network: Cable One (channel 139, 1139 HD), DirecTV (channel 221) and Dish Network (channel 158)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
- Records: Boise State 10-1, 6-1 Mountain West; Air Force 8-3, 4-3
- Series: Tied 2-2
- Last four meetings: 2015 — AF def. BSU 37-30; 2014 — AF def. BSU 28-14; 2013 — BSU def. AF 42-20; 2011 — BSU def. AF 37-26
- Vegas line: Boise State by 9 1/2
- Kickoff weather: Mid 50s, sunny with slight winds