Signing at service academies is the ultimate team play for athletes like Vista Ridge's Jaylen Thomas

Vista Ridge football Jalen Thomas

(Dan Mohrmann/

COLORADO SPRINGS — When Vista Ridge football coach Jerimi Calip talked about Jaylen Thomas on Wednesday, he described the ultimate team player.

And in choosing his post-high school destination, he kept with that mentality and chose a spot where it was about the whole rather than the individual. And the whole as in a college program, the whole as in country. Thomas will serve in the United States Air Force Academy and made his intentions clear that he will be playing for the Falcons as well.

"I think being able to serve my country, play football at the Division 1 level and receive a great education is something you can't beat," Thomas said.

The stories are well-written. When it comes to athletics recruiting at any of the country's three service academies, the standard top-level athletes don't often sign on those dotted lines.

Rampart Vista Ridge football

(Dan Mohrmann/

But Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has said it many a times, they go after top-level human beings. Listening to Calip speak about Thomas and listening to Thomas himself, there is little doubt that Calhoun got himself a quality human being.

"Just to make a commitment to play Division I football is unselfish in itself," Calip said. "Going to a service academy that requires you to be unselfish, have discipline, be loyal and all the other qualities that the Academy demands, they couldn't get a better candidate."

In all, Calhoun is getting four outstanding candidates from the state of Colorado. According to the recruiting database, Arapahoe's Blake Carette, Eaglecrest's Jalen Mergerson and Fairview's Tevye Schuettpelz-Rohl will all join Thomas as Falcons in the fall.

On top of the allure of playing Division I football, what helped drive Thomas in that direction was the fact that he grew up in the shadow of the Academy grounds.

Although the Falcons are technically a federal program and not state funded or assisted, the Air Force fan base is strong to Colorado Springs residents, even those with no official ties to the Academy.

That became evident with several signings around the springs. Cheyenne Mountain's August Johnson is attending the Academy to play boys lacrosse, Pine Creek's Kellsie Knoerzer is going for girls soccer and 2016 Class 4A champion Luke Trujillo is going for boys golf.

There are several other from the class of 2018 going, and not just from the Springs, but from all around the state.

But for those close, the Academy and even just the football games were a major part of growing up and falling in love with high-level athletics.

"I remember going to Air Force games when I was a kid," Thomas said. "My grandma and grandpa were always big fans."

From the time he entered as a freshman at Vista Ridge, Thomas knew that was the direction he wanted to go. He sent Calip an excited text message in November when the Falcons officially made their offer.

"As soon as that offer came through, it was an easy decision," Calip said. "He said he would see what other offers came through, but he was committing to Air Force. It was the one he wanted."

And it was the one he got.

And if he continues to approach life as a cadet the way he has a high school football player, the Air Force is a better place today than it was 24 hours ago.

(Bethany Brookens/