AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – Like countless other college running backs, Air Force senior Jared Tew worked on his routes over the summer.
Only, he wasn't practicing patterns on the football field like others were but speeding high above the Rocky Mountains inside the cockpit of a single-prop training plane.
Falcons quarterback Tim Jefferson sure could've used him at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where he grabbed anyone he could find to throw passes to between sessions in the flight simulator.
For these cadets, summers are as much about training to serve their country after college as they are preparing for the upcoming season.
While programs across the nation benefit from players sticking around campus over the summer to work out and train together, the Falcons were scattered all over the world, learning as much about base operations as base formations.
Jefferson carried a football around with him in Dover, just in case he had a free moment, and someone with a free set of hands to haul in some of his passes. To his impromptu receiving corps, Jefferson was just another cadet tossing around a football for stress relief.
"Not too many people knew we even had a football team at the Academy," said Jefferson, who started 10 games last season. "When you get out to the actual Air Force bases, you have a job to do, so you do your job and get it done."
The summer is divided into three periods for the cadets, each lasting about three weeks. They go through training in specialized areas, take classes like chemistry, and sometimes even venture home for a quick visit.
As fall camp approached, there were more and more of them returning to get in some bona fide preparation for the season.
"We make the most out of it," said Jefferson, whose team opens Sept. 4 against Northwestern State. "We don't have everyone here at the same time, but you still have to find a way to get your job done."
Even those who were around really weren't all that free.
Cornerback Reggie Rembert was a squadron commander on base for basic training, in charge of about 100 cadets. Rembert, of Flower Mound, Texas, woke up each morning at 3 o'clock and didn't turn the lights out until 11:30 at night.
He found time to squeeze in some training, enticing his second-in-command to hold down the fort while he went for a midday workout. Still, it's difficult for a defensive back like Rembert — one of the top cover guys in the Mountain West — to stay on his game without actually staying on receivers.
His confidence is still running high, though. At the conference media days in Las Vegas last month, Rembert saddled up to TCU quarterback Andy Dalton and announced his hope of picking off a pass from the league's reigning offensive player of the year.
"He just laughed it off, saying, 'Yeah, yeah,'" Rembert said.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun has no quarrels with the limited summer workouts, understanding it's simply part of the process of molding cadets into officers.
And it doesn't appear to be hampering the Falcons on the field, the team making three straight bowl appearances under Calhoun.
"As a football coach, sure, I'd like to have them there every day," Calhoun said. "But one of the responsibilities you have if you're a college football coach is to get your guys ready for whatever they're going to do when they're done with football."
For Jefferson, that's becoming a commercial pilot once his commitment to the Air Force is finished. He went to Dover to train in a simulator, learning to fly rugged military transport aircraft.
Not as glamorous as fighter jets, but it's more his speed.
"I've never been a roller-coaster type of guy. So, I figured I wouldn't like fighter jets, because people compare them to roller coasters," said Jefferson, who threw for 848 yards last season and rushed for another 254.
Not only did Tew spend his summer getting in some flying time, he also worked the assault course during basic training. His role? To play the "mean guy" as cadets crawled under barbed wire and hopped over walls at his prompting.
It's quite a step out of character for the ever-affable Tew, who led the team in rushing last year with 970 yards.
"We're in charge of making sure they're pushing themselves, yelling at them to keep going," said Tew, who's from Park City, Utah.
When his work was done, no matter how tired, no matter how exhausted, Tew would head over to the football field and see if any teammates were milling around.
It never hurt to look.
"Everyone wasn't there each period, but we got some work in," Tew said. "We know how important it is, to get out there and work out as a team — especially since every other team in the nation is doing just that."