The football program at the Air Force Academy has long been known for its rushing attack.
To some degree, it’s a point of irony considering the Academy’s Falcon mascot and how the very nature of the name “Air Force” conjures up flying or, in football terms, through the air.
On the gridiron at least, the Falcons do their damage to opponents through an option-based ground attack which, despite evolving in ways through the years, remains a constant each fall.
Even as a senior, the demands continue.
“It’s still just as rigorous, but in a different way,” Lee said. “Your freshman year, you are on the bottom of the totem pole. Now that I am closer to graduation and close to earning a commission, the demands are still there, they are just different.”
Lee is currently training for various leadership programs and has a long term goal of being a fighter pilot.
“I’m not surprised that he is doing as well as he is,” said Shane Davis, Lee’s high school coach. “He had a great high school career and was an All-State player his senior season who was picked to play in the North-South All-Star game.”
However, Lee’s story goes beyond that of a local kid who goes off to college, makes the team and becomes a vital part of that program. There is so much more to it when you are at the Air Force Academy.
“It has been tough for him at times,” Davis said. “He’s never been a full-time starter, but he’s to the point where he does start in some games. It says a lot about his character and commitment that he has stuck it out and hung in there for this amount of time. He never opted out of being there and that says something about the type of person he is. It goes beyond football.”
No one should think Lee hasn’t been a key part of the Falcon program for coach Troy Calhoun. His junior season last fall saw Lee play in 10 games (he missed the Army and New Mexico games due to injury). He was third on the team in rushing with 429 yards and three touchdowns on 66 carries. He also became the 40th player in Air Force history to rush for 1,000-yards in his career.
Lee played in 12 games as a sophomore, including two starts against Nevada and Army.
As a freshman, Lee played in all 13 games on special teams and as a backup running back. His first year saw Lee play on the prep team, while he was a student at the Air Force Academy Prep School. That year allows new students a chance to become adjusted to life at the Academy and for football players, an opportunity to gain experience at the next level.
Lee said during his year playing for the Prep School, most of the opponents were junior college programs from Kansas.
“There was something appealing to Jon about playing football at that level,” Davis said. “However, I told him that it had to be a career decision and not a football one. He is being trained to defend our country. That calling is so much bigger than football. You go to the Air Force Academy to train to become an officer.”
Lee helped lead a potent Wildcat ground attack during his time at The Chee. He lettered all four years of high school in track and three in football. He was an honorable All-State selection in 2007 and was named All-Region twice.
Not surprisingly, Lee was an honor graduate and worked year round to make himself a better athlete. Lee was a three-time state powerlifting champion for Davis at AHS.
In 2009, he helped lead the Wildcats to a perfect regular season, a region championship and the chance to host three state playoff games.
“Jon was one of those rare and special players who was very talented and had the high character and intelligence to match the high talent,” AHS offensive coordinator Joel Miller said. “Every coach will tell you that when your best players are your hardest workers, then the coach’s job is easy. We never had to worry about Jon off the field. We knew he was going to be at practice, we knew his grades were going to be good, and we knew he was not getting in trouble in class. Jon is a perfect example of what our program has been built on and we are very proud of him. I have probably watched almost every one of his college games and look forward to watching him this season. I hope he has a great senior year and cherishes the memories he is making, as we cherish the memories from his high school years.”
The initial shock of life as a student at the AFA was similar to what others go through.
It’s been documented that at the service academies, football actually provides somewhat of a break from the grueling pace students have to endure.
“Despite what they go through, they still have to put forth their best on Saturdays,” Davis said.
And trips home to see family and friends are rare.
“I don’t get home that much,” Lee said. “I will get a few days soon and that is something I am looking forward to. Even during the summer, we are so busy here. It’s not like other colleges where students often take off. We are busy with training so our summers are usually booked up.”
Lee stays in touch with his former high school coach from time-to-time, primarily during football season. The former Wildcat also stays in touch with AHS assistant coaches Miller and Matt Sorrells.
One aspect of being a student at the AFA is dealing with the Colorado winters.
“Every time it gets around October, I know it’s coming,” Lee joked. “It’s still a shock, but after being here four years, you get used to.”
Preseason practice begins for Lee and the Falcons Aug. 1. Lee said the players have set goals for the fall, including a winning season, winning the Commander in Chief trophy (by defeating Army and Navy) and making a bowl game and earning a win in that possible contest.
Winning the CIC trophy also means the Air Force team would get to meet the President of the United States.
After finishing at the AFA, Lee will have another five years to serve, at a minimum.