By Ron Richards, www.armedforcesbowl.com
Austin Niklas has spent most of his Saturdays over the past few months chasing down running backs, batting down passes and sacking quarterbacks. He has had precious little time to pursue seeing his Fullerton, Calif.,-based family.
His family Christmas, and several days after, will have to wait as the Air Force senior linebacker suits up one final time for the Falcons, this time against Rice University in the December 29 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.
For the Niklas family, the college bowl season means not only Austin misses out on the Holidays. His brother, Troy, is busy this bowl season, too. The 6-7, 260-pound Notre Dame tight end is prepping to play in the national championship game January 7 against Alabama.
“I haven’t been home for over a year,” said Austin. “I’ve just been too busy with everything. But this is what you want – this is where you want to be.”
His time away from family has seen him average a team-leading 9.5 tackles per game, second-best among Mountain West Conference defenders. He and fellow backer Alex Means have teamed up to serve as the driving force behind the Falcons’ defense.
For Niklas, being away from his family at the Holidays has become commonplace. Each of his four years at the Academy, the Falcons have participated in bowl games, so the end of December has been a time to continue to concentrate on football.
“I’m looking forward to playing in Fort Worth against Rice,” he said. “They do a pretty good job of spreading out the field and played really well the final half of the season. They’re bigger than us (physically) but we're used to that. We use our speed and toughness to make up for physical differences.
“The two weeks off we had after our regular season ended really helped us,” he added. “We had a lot of guys banged up. It seems like everyone came back from that time off with some extra pop in their step.”
From Austin's perspective, if that added 'pop' results in the Falcons pushing their season record over .500, it will have been well-worth postponing his Holiday time with the Niklas family.