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Army coach Jeff Monken is big believer in Air Force QB Arion Worthman

Air Force quarterback Arion Worthman pitches the ball during a Nov. 12, 2016, game in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

JASON GUTIERRE/U.S. AIR FORCE

By DAVID RAMSEY | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: August 18, 2018

(Tribune News Service) — Army coach Jeff Monken is listening to a list of Air Force quarterback Arion Worthman's struggles in his junior season. His running statistics sank. So did his passing statistics.

As Worthman rolls into his senior season, he's the most important player in the highly competitive and highly complicated service-academy rivalry. Air Force lost to both Navy and Army last season, the worst blemish on the Falcons' fizzled 5-7 season. A revived Worthman is not an absolute requirement for a revived Air Force football team, but a resurgence from No. 2 sure would help.

Monken, speaking from his West Point office, makes a spirited defense of Worthman.

"Oh, I don't know if there's any kind of a slump for him," he says. "I think he's a really talented player. We recruited him, and we worked really, really hard to try to get him to West Point. He's a terrific kid and a really good player."

Monken will face Worthman Nov. 3 at West Point.

A year ago, Worthman looked on his way to stardom, and I mean big-time stardom. He had rescued the 2016 season, pushing the Falcons to six straight wins. In his first start, he led Air Force to a 31-12 demolition of Monken and Army. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

He often struggled in 2017, averaging 3.8 yards per carry and completing a Tim Tebow-like 49.5 percent of his passes. Monken is a big fan of Worthman's talents, but Monken's team silenced him at Falcon Stadium in a 21-0 shutout.

But Worthman, even in a down season, had his moments. Against Navy, the Falcons fell behind 38-17 and looked on their way to a drubbing of historic levels.

Worthman kept clapping and shouting in the huddle. Everything, he said, would be all right. Victory remained within sight.

He almost made his words come true. He rushed for 161 yards and passed for 257. He caught a 24-yard pass. He even made a touchdown-saving tackle.

He pushed the Falcons to a 45-41 lead with 1:53 left in what would have been one of the most spectacular comebacks in academy history, regardless of sport.

Alas, Navy rallied for a 48-45 win.

Another voice from the east is talking, this time about Worthman's sensational performance against Navy.

"One of the most spectacular performances I've ever seen," says the voice. "His passing was phenomenal. His running was phenomenal."

Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo, owner of the voice, starts laughing.

"Unfortunately, I was the coach of the opposing team."

Worthman is facing a stern challenge from former Palmer Ridge star Isaiah Sanders, a junior, and the sturdy Donald Hammond III, a sophomore. Sanders ended the 2017 season with a Worthman-like performance in a victory over Utah State.

Monken is not an expert on the August happenings at Air Force practice. He is, after two massively different football battles, an expert on Worthman.

"I'm sure he's going to have a great year," says the coach who wanted Worthman to play for him at Army.

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(c)2018 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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