Joining the Air Force Academy is not an easy choice for many people, but for Mt. Lebanon linebacker Beckham Dee, it surely came as the best decision he could make.
Dee committed to Air Force on July 1, about a month after receiving an offer from the program in late May. He also held offers from the other service academies in Army and Navy, Toledo and FCS offers from Ivy League schools in Columbia, Penn and Princeton, as well as Bryant, Duquesne, Fordham, Holy Cross, Lafayette, Lehigh, Richmond, Stony Brook and William & Mary.
The allure of Air Force for Dee came firstly, financially. Aside from the two other FBS service academies and Toledo, his other offers came from the FCS level. The offers from big time FCS schools, like those in the Ivy League, were not full scholarships, but Air Force was.
He also wanted to become a Falcon because it is a higher level of football at the FBS level than the FCS teams, as the program plays in the Mountain West Conference against opponents like Boise St, Wyoming, Fresno State and others.
“The school itself, there’s so many benefits,” Dee said. “I think it’s one of the best options for my future even outside of football…an Air Force degree is one of the best out of all the colleges that offered me as well. It sets me up really well financially for the rest of my life.”
Air Force contacted Dee a week prior to offering him. Dee also went on an unofficial visit to the program to see what it had to offer. He toured the school, looked at the facilities, spoke with the coaching staff and then went to head coach Troy Calhoun’s house for a barbecue.
Dee built a relationship best with inside linebackers coach Ken Lamendola. Lamendola spoke to Dee and told him what he liked in his game, what made him a strong linebacker and why he wanted him to become a Falcon.
“He’s probably one of the most genuine coaches that I’ve been in contact with the entire process and that was a big thing for me,” Dee said. “He was upfront. He was real about everything. A lot of these coaches twist the truth a little bit in their favor, but it seemed like coach Lamendola was fully transparent and he also built a really strong relationship with me and my family. So that was a big aspect of that as well.”
Joining Air Force is not something that most WPIAL players do when they choose to play for a service academy. The drive from Mt. Lebanon to the academy is more than 1,400 miles to Colorado. This drive is much longer compared to Navy in Annapolis, Md., which is more than 250 miles, and the drive to Army in West Point, N.Y., which is close to 400 miles.
Avonworth alum Trevor Faulkner committed to Air Force, but ended up transferring mid-season during his freshman year and is now a redshirt sophomore tight end walk-on at Pitt.
Mt. Lebanon also has a number of former players on the Navy team right now in sophomores in slotback Eli Heidenreich and fullback Alex Tezca. North Hills alum in senior center Lirion Murtezi and Canon-Mac alum in junior offensive tackle Conor McMahon are former WPIAL player who also play for Navy. Army currently has one player from the WPIAL in North Hills alum and senior running back Tyler Brennan.
Dee’s teammate, Class of 2024 offensive/defensive lineman Connor Young, announced his commitment to Navy at the end of June. Dee said that, despite the two attending military academies, neither player had much impact on the other as to where they committed to play in college. Much of it came down to their own decisions and where they really wanted to play.
“We’re good friends,” Dee said. “I’m really excited to compete against him, obviously. We didn’t have much of an impact on each other.”
Standing at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds Dee will lead his linebacker unit in 2023 in his final season for Mt. Lebanon. He played a role in helping the team finish with a perfect 15-0 record as a sophomore in 2021, where they won the WPIAL 6A title 47-7 against Pittsburgh Central Catholic and the PIAA 6A State title against powerhouse St. Joseph’s Prep, 35-17.
Mt. Lebanon head coach Bob Palko resigned after last season and is now currently on the Penn State staff. Former Elizabeth Forward head coach Mike Collodi signed on to take over for him and Dee has great hopes for this new coach staff.
“He’s brought a whole different level of energy,” Dee said. “The past coaching staff was fantastic and I also think our new one is fantastic as well. He’s brought a lot of talented guys who know and understand the game.”
Some of the those coaches include former Pitt players in Tre Tipton and Chase Pine, who will serve as offensive and defensive assistants, respectively. Dee said that their Division I experience will prove valuable to the team as role models and in furthering the players’ skills.
Dee has developed like all high school players do throughout their time playing football, but there have been other aspects that he’s improved on greatly. He’s learned how to understand the defense as well as the offense, such as play-recognition and subtle cues the offense gives as to what they are doing during the ensuing play.
The growth in knowledge of the game has played a large role for Dee, as he prepares to do the best he can to bring Mt. Lebanon to another WPIAL title and PIAA title. He will likely take an official visit to Air Force at some point in the near future and is incredibly ecstatic to join the program in 2024 and that he hopes the fans feel the same.
“I describe myself as a hard-nosed competitor that will do anything and work very hard to earn that starting spot and do what’s best for the team to win,” Dee said. “I’d say that Air Force fans can expect a guy that’s going to leave it out on the field every single night and play for the teammates and for the fans instead of himself.”