COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — For the past dozen years, Matt Weikert has helped mold some members of America’s fighting force from boys into men.
But the Covington High School graduate hasn’t done it by teaching anyone military tactics, how to fire a gun or fly a fighter jet. Instead, he’s using a football to serve his country.
“People always ask me, ‘Did you ever serve?’ I tell them I didn’t, but I’ve been recruiting future officers for the United States Air Force the past 12 years,” said Weikert, who is the outside linebackers coach for the United States Air Force Academy football team. “That’s one of the neatest parts of my job, is coming across young men who used to play for you and having them share some of the things they are doing.
“We’ve got 23- and 24-year-old former players who are flying multi-million dollar pieces of machinery now. We’ve got Air Force OSI (Office of Special Investigations) coming to interview us because one of our former players is going to be doing something that requires top-secret clearance. They were just playing football for me a few years ago. That’s a pretty special feeling that you really can’t get coaching at other schools.”
Weikert’s football career began in Covington, where he was the quarterback and a linebacker on the Buccaneers’ 1996 playoff team. Following his graduation from Covington in 1997, he walked on at Ohio University, where he made the team as an outside linebacker. By his sophomore year, he was put on scholarship after earning a starting role on the Bobcat defense.
While playing at Ohio University, Weikert was coached by a number of men who would be instrumental in his own coaching career.
Current Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun was Ohio’s offensive coordinator while Weikert played for the Bobcats. Falcons’ co-defensive coordinator Brian Knorr coached linebackers and was the defensive coordinator when Weikert was at Ohio, later becoming his head coach. Bobcat head coach Jim Grobe had previously coached at Air Force.
After graduating from Ohio University, Weikert went undrafted, but did receive several NFL tryouts. When none of those panned out, he went into insurance. He had only been doing that for a few months when he received a phone call that would forever change the course of his life.
“When I graduated from OU, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “So I started working at Aflac. It was a good job, but I knew it wasn’t what I really what I saw myself doing for the rest of my life. My junior year, Jim Grobe left to take the Wake Forest coaching job. I think his entire staff at OU, except for one guy, went with him. I continued my relationship with all of the coaches.
“After working at Aflac for three months, I got a phone call offering me a recruiting assistant internship. I jumped at the chance to do that.”
He would work as a graduate assistant at Wake Forest and spend a year coaching outside linebackers at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga. In 2007, Calhoun hired him to coach outside linebackers. He’s also coached the defensive line and inside linebackers in his 12 years at Air Force.
He said the experience of coaching at Air Force — with its rigorous academics and code of conduct — is different from any other place he’s ever been.
“It’s definitely different coaching here,” he said. “I always tell people, ‘Don’t get me wrong, we have issues here just like any other program, but they are probably different types of issues than most other programs have.’ For us, an issue might be a kid needing to shave or get a haircut. To be honest, I’ve never had to worry about getting a phone call at 2 a.m. because one of my players is in serious trouble.
“Here’s another thing that makes coaching at Air Force a little different than a lot of other places. All of our players are taking ‘for real’ classes. Our players are all taking classes like physics, calculus, aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering. As a coach, you don’t have to worry about their grades, because they are taking their classes seriously. If they aren’t, their commanding officer is going to get to them before I am.
“When they come to practice, it’s like recess for them. Football is fun. Football is comfortable for them. Up on the hill in classes is where things get serious for them.”
For Weikert, coaching at the Air Force Academy is a dream come true.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I’m so blessed to have had the opportunity to coach here for 12 years. I love it out here.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong