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Sophomore fullback Taven Birdow sees role expand for Air Force

By BRENT BRIGGEMAN | The Gazette (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 4, 2017

A midgame injury replacement last week, Air Force fullback Taven Birdow is preparing for what could be his first collegiate start Saturday at Navy.

Strange how that works out, because Birdow very nearly ended up on the other side of this service academy rivalry.

"Navy was more classic," said Birdow, who took official visits to Air Force and Navy and held an offer from Army. "Air Force was more modernized, more upbeat. Theirs is more traditional, more military. I don't know, it was just all about the feel of the place. It was different."

The 6-foot-1, 220-pound native of Altus, Okla., always envisioned himself at the center of a recruiting war. And it happened, just not as quickly as he anticipated after receiving his first offer from Tulsa as a sophomore.

When that initial offer didn't open the floodgates to more, Birdow transferred to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., to hone his skills against top competition and be showcased for college coaches.

He returned to Altus for his senior year, ran for 2,472 yards and 30 touchdowns and earned The Oklahoman's All-State Offensive Player of the Year honors after leading his 5A program to its first state title since 1971.

Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said much of Birdow's recruiting went through his mother, Jamie Rodrigues, who worked at Altus Air Force Base.

Whatever the final combination proved to be -- a push from mom, a preference for Air Force's "modern" feel, or something else -- the three-star recruit came to the academy with a skill set that helped Birdow earn a spot as a sprinter on a fourth-place 400-meter relay team, become a member of a two-time state championship wrestling team, throw the shot put in track (finishing eighth at state) and gain recognition by the National Honor Society (he hopes to attend graduate school to earn an MBA after finishing with a degree in management at the academy).

And now, early in his sophomore year, Birdow has earned an ever-growing role with the Falcons.

He took his first snaps at Michigan on Sept. 16, logged his first carry (for 3 yards) against San Diego State on Sept. 23 and then carried 12 times for 50 yards in place of the injured Parker Wilson at New Mexico on Saturday.

"I have a lot to improve on, but I needed that," Birdow said.

Wilson's status is unknown. He didn't practice Monday and did so on a limited basis Tuesday, dressing in shoulder pads and helmet but not in full pads like the rest of the team.

Even if Birdow takes on a backup role, Air Force has proven with the use of D.J. Johnson and Shayne Davern in recent years that there can be plenty of work for two fullbacks.

"He's still growing," Calhoun said. "He's still learning. Just realizing how demanding it is physically to play fullback as a college football player, but certainly has ability."

It's ability that Navy wanted, too, but will now have to contend with Saturday.

(c) 2017 The Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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