by: Vern Uyetake, Jake Paulson was a menacing hitter when he played linebacker for Lakeridge three years ago. This year, Paulson is expected to start at defensive end for the Air Force Academy, which opens its season against Tennessee.

What a difference a year makes. At this time in 2005, Lakeridge High School graduate Jake Paulson was fresh out of basic training at the Air Force Academy in Colorado and was enduring the difficult life of being a freshman on the football team.

'It was hard adapting at first, I'm not going to lie. But now I'm settled into the lifestyle and I can focus on football,' Paulson said.

Paulson swung between the varsity and junior varsity squad last season and was slated to see some time on the field in Division I games late last fall before a sprained MCL forced him to end his season prematurely as a precaution.

Now, one week into summer practice, Paulson is pencilled in to be one of the Falcons' starting defensive ends on an Air Force team that is bursting with high expectations.

Despite undergoing surgery for a sports hernia two weeks ago, Paulson is expected to join his team for full practices in a matter of days and is excited about the year in front of him.

'This team has a different attitude (that last year). The expectations are high,' Paulson said.

Paulson is expected to be a valuable asset on a young but talented defense that will be crucial in determining how well the Falcons' season pans out.

'We're really looking to turn things around on defense. It's going to be a lot more intense this year and we're going to play a bit looser,' Paulson said.

The Falcons are expected to be one of the best teams in the Mountain West Conference this season and are slated to play in a number of high-profile contests this fall.

To go along with annual showdowns against Army and Navy, the Falcons open the season on the road against perennial powerhouse, Tennessee.

But perhaps the most notable game on the schedule occurs on Nov. 11. That's when Notre Dame, a team that many experts are predicting to be the frontrunner for a national championship, comes into Colorado to renew a long-standing rivalry.

Air Force is expected to have a balanced team this year, one that should contend for a conference championship and earn a bowl bid at the end of the season.

'You can definitely expect us to get after the ball this year. We're focusing on (creating) turnovers,' Paulson said.

Anyone who knew Paulson or watched him play football in high school is probably not too surprised that he is succeeding at the next level. At Lakeridge he became one of the most feared linebacker's in the school's history.

Although he possessed loads of natural talent, what set Paulson apart was how much he studied the game and his uncanny ability to read opposing offenses.

'That knowledge and preparation have always been my strong points,' Paulson said.

None of that has changed since he graduated in 2004. Paulson spent his freshman year learning a new defense and making the transition from linebacker to defensive end. He will also likely play defensive tackle in some sets this year.

His ability to read offenses has only been enhanced by the tools that are at his disposal through the academy.

'With all of their equipment here I'm like a kid in a candy store,' Paulson said.

The academics at Air Force are also strenuous, especially during football season. The academy provides tutors for its players who accompany them on road trips.

'On the bus you'll look around and everyone's got their binders out and they're doing homework,' Paulson said.

But all of the hard work will bear fruit when Paulson graduates. The Air Force guarantees graduates a job once they are finished, something which Paulson is grateful for.

After graduation he will be required to serve for a minimum of five years of active duty and hopes to be stationed in Germany. Next summer Paulson will spend three weeks in Germany as part of a language immersion program before the ensuing football season.

But there is also the potential that Paulson's football career will not end after his time at Air Force is over. If he continued to make strides it is likely that the NFL may take notice, which is something that Paulson has thought about since he first started playing the game.

'If I play well enough and get a look from the next level I can't pass that up,' Paulson said.

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