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PERSPECTIVE

Donald Hammond III loves math, plays with swagger, and is again the Air Force quarterback

Air Force quarterback Donald Hammond III gets the ball away in the face of onrushing Army linebacker Cole Christiansen during a game at West Point, N.Y., in November, 2018.

JOE GROMELSKI/STARS AND STRIPES

By BRENT BRIGGEMAN | The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) | Published: August 29, 2019

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — The absence of subjectivity draws Donald Hammond III to math.

There’s right. There’s wrong. Black. White.

Maybe this attraction comes from the fact that the Air Force junior so often resides within an undefinable gray area.

He’s a running quarterback. He sprints a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and packs power at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds. He rushed for a team-best nine touchdowns last year.

But he’s also a throwing quarterback. With a side-arm style that makes it a look like he launches the ball with little more than a flick of the wrist, Hammond can zip it with a velocity the Falcons haven’t seen in recent years. His five touchdown passes last year covered an average of 26 yards.

“If you’re on the field you’re never out of his range until the play’s over,” slot receiver Ben Peterson said. “The dude’s an insane athlete.”

He’s a serious student, carrying a GPA over 3.0 in aeronautical engineering – notorious among cadets as the most difficult major at the academy. He refers to himself as a “math guy.” His dream? Have his name on a plane he designs.

“The feedback was extremely focused, great work ethic,” coach Troy Calhoun said, summarizing the report from Hammond’s professor during a particularly challenging summer engineering course.

But Hammond also plays with an emotion that can run hot. During a practice early in August he ran upfield to trash talk 6-3, 235-pound linebacker Lakota Wills after a completed pass. Wills responded by hammering Hammond into the ground as a skirmish erupted.

“We have a quarterback who’s not afraid of some big guys,” said Wills, one of Hammond’s best friends on the team. “That’s good.”

Hammond has no interest in shedding that part of his game.

“I like to play with a certain swagger,” he said. “I like to carry myself a certain way.”

Here’s one thing certain about Hammond — he’s Air Force’s quarterback. That announcement was quietly made late this past week to the players after Hammond and senior Isaiah Sanders had battled for the spot for the second straight year. Hammond won it midway through his sophomore year. Then won it again after returning from an injury. Now, the coaches have put their support behind him again.

While there’s a stark contrast between Sanders — dubbed Mr. Steady by coaches — and the swagger of the Hampton, Ga., native, Hammond has the endorsement of his teammates.

“Everyone on the team loves to be around him,” Peterson said. “He’s got a way of motivating people and making people want to get out there and give everything they’ve got.

“He makes plays. That’s what we need. We need guys who are going to go out there, work hard, know what their assignment is, but also guys at the end of the day who are going to win one-on-one battles and make plays to win games.”

Receiver Geraud Sanders said he’s seen Hammond do things he hasn’t yet shown in a game.

“I’m just going to say be ready,” Sanders said. “Air Force is known to run the ball, but fans might be excited come the first few games.

“I love DJ for real.”

Hammond realizes the next step in his progression will be to harness the many variables he brings to the position into something consistent and formidable.

His film study is more productive now that he’s played significant time — making five starts last year and playing most of the second half in two other games. He feels he’s better at reading defenses, and participating in the plan.

He wants to grasp more, though. That’s just his nature.

“I like to learn new stuff,” he said. “I want to expand my knowledge. I chose my major because learning something new appealed to me.”

He views football through the same prism of objectivity he approaches math. He wants to check his offense into the right play, throw to the right receiver as the play develops, execute the option the right way.

“It’s a right or wrong,” Hammond said. “Sometimes you’re wrong, but you get a right outcome — it just happens that way sometimes, especially in college football. But there’s definitely a right or wrong thing to do.”

But know this about the quarterback wearing the blue No. 5, he’s content keeping himself cloaked in gray even as he tries to make his surroundings as black and white as possible.

“I just want to be me, honestly,” he said. “I pride myself on being myself and not what anyone wants me to be. I’m just going to be who I am.”

©2019 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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