It didn't long for Matt Farmer to realize how small a role he would play in Air Force's offense. One practice.

Prior to his arrival in Colorado Springs, the Falcons' coaches told him he may play running back or wide receiver. "But when I got here," Farmer said, "they told me I'd be a receiver. . . . Then, the first day I went out for practice, there were 19 other receivers."

That would have made for long odds if Air Force's offense used four wide receivers. Air Force features the run-oriented triple option.

"Going from touching the ball 20 times a game to maybe one, if your lucky, on JV is kind of an adjustment," said Farmer, who played tailback at Pella (Iowa) High School.

But Farmer has adjusted, and so have Air Force's coaches. The triple-option remains their primary offensive system, but Farmer has played a prominent enough role to have been selected to play in this season's Hula Bowl, a postseason all-star game for the nation's top seniors.

Last season, Farmer caught 35 passes for 650 yards--the most by a Falcon since Ken Carpenter in 1985--and was named second-team all-Western Athletic Conference. Going into Saturday's game against Navy at Redskins Stadium he has 16 receptions for 197 yards this season, helping the Falcons start 3-1.

"I had no expectations of how well my career was going to go here," said Farmer, who is 6 feet 1, 195 pounds. "You just have to take advantage of the opportunities you get, because you don't get them very often."

He earned all-state honors as a high school senior, but was going to be no more than a recruited walk-on at Iowa, Nebraska or Northwestern. No Division I-A school offered him a scholarship.

"Basically, I made up my mind my senior year in high school that I was going to play Division I football, and that I wasn't going to accept anything less," Farmer said. "Had it come down to it, I would've paid for it and gone to one of those three schools, but the way it worked out I got a chance to come here, get a great education and play Division I football all at the same time."

Now, the psychology major is a top contributor on a team that has gone to bowl games the past two seasons, and defeated Washington in last season's Oahu Bowl.

"Matt would be a fine receiver in any offense," Air Force Coach Fisher DeBerry said. "He catches the ball well, and can do something with the ball after he catches it. Probably we're not very smart as coaches in that we don't get the ball more to him. We probably should be trying."

Farmer said he was somewhat shocked to learn prior to this season that he had been chosen to play in the Hula Bowl. The selection has opened his eyes to the possibility of an NFL career. He has heard scouts are looking at him, and he is eager for the chance to continue playing.

Though players are committed to serve the Air Force for five years after graduation, that time can be cut to as little as two years if a player is signed by an NFL team. For now, his goal is to help Air Force have another winning season.

"This offense isn't built around any one player," he said. "They're not going to make a real extra effort to get me the ball. I think they're just going to take what the defense gives us, and if that means throwing the ball to me then that's what we'll do."