NAU Preview: Position by Position
AUG 16, 2014 5:27p ET
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Northern Arizona opens the 2014 season on Saturday at San Deigo State.
Here is a preview, position by position, of what the Lumberjacks could look like as they try to make it back to the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
When it comes to the quarterbacks, the lineup will be very familiar. With an offensive line that is significantly improved from a year ago, the quarterbacks have a solid foundation in place to help improve its offense.
"I think that we're fortunate that both quarterbacks (Kyren Poe and Chase Cartwright) have a little bit of a different style and they complement each other well," said offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello.
Poe returns to lead the quarterbacks. The junior earned the starting role last season, and will go into 2014 with the same title. Poe completed 163 passes on 270 attempts for a total of 1,602 yards and six touchdowns during his sophomore season.
"Kyren has become a better thrower, but he's an outstanding athlete and it allows us to do some different things in the run game," said Scangarello.
Backing up Poe will be senior Chase Cartwright. Unlike most backups, Cartwright has exceptional experience on his resume to bump up the depth chart for the Lumberjacks. Cartwright finished last season with 70 completions on 111 attempts for a total of 753 yards and eight touchdowns, including four starts.
"Chase is a traditional drop back quarterback that's very accurate and has won some big games as a quarterback from the pocket," Scangarello said.
NAU produced 4,212 yards of total offense in 2013, with an average of 351 yards per game and 14 touchdowns. The Lumberjacks will have to work on accuracy as they had 14 interceptions on the stats sheet.
"Continuity helps," said Scangarello. "Three years in the same offense and multi-year quarterbacks that have started games aren't the norm. It doesn't happen very often. We are fortunate that we have two guys that are capable of winning games for us. They are outstanding individuals, leaders, and players."
Junior Jordan Perry has been another great player to have on the depth chart for NAU. When you mix everyone together, you have a dynamic group that can throw, run, and create situations to keep the defense off balance.
Newcomers to the unit include freshmen Cody Cordell and Hunter Correll.
The NAU run game may have lost a familiar face in the backfield, but running backs coach Jimmy Beal is confident that his returners have what it takes to keep NAU at a high level in the Big Sky Conference.
The Lumberjacks must replace four-year starter Zach Bauman, the school's all-time rushing leader, but Beal believes they have capable replacements, led by junior Casey Jahn.
"We always preach about standard of play, and Zach set that bar for us," said Beal. "Casey is right behind him and following in to that role."
Jahn, a junior, is the only upperclassmen in the unit. He's backed up by five freshmen.
"Zach taught me a lot," said Jahn. "Being with him the last two years, he taught me how to prepare for a game from watching film and how to evaluate a defense. Another important thing he taught me was to be humble because he was a really humble guy and he was the star of our team."
Jahn appeared in all 12 games last year as a backup to Bauman, rushing for 212 yards on 56 carries.
"I've definitely taken on a leadership role because we have a ton of young guys," Jahn said. "I'm trying to help these guys out, help integrate them into our system and learn the plays. They're all very talented and they all have a bright future at NAU."
Behind Jahn is redshirt freshman Corbin Jountti and four newcomers to the program: Tyler Brown, Aaryn Dorsett, Marquice Paige, and Kelly Wood. All have a chance of earning playing time early.
"It's all about competing and finding that next guy to step up," said Beal. "The younger guys are pushing Casey each day, so it definitely hasn't been easy for him."
The Lumberjacks wide receivers are a mixture of old and new faces, as they embark on their second season under Coach Tim Plough.
Seniors Ify Umodu and Dejzon Walker, along with junior Alex Holmes are the only three wide receivers on NAU's roster that have previous playing experience at NAU. The trio has started numerous games for the Lumberjacks as they will be the leaders of the unit.
"You can't replace experience and game time," said Plough. "When you're playing at a high speed and a high level like these guys have been doing for multiple years we can focus more on technique. They show tremendous effort. Ify in particular is someone who's been doing it for a long time; the right way. They play at a high effort every practice and never take a rep off."
Hunter Burton, a redshirt freshman last season, will make his debut this season after spending a year learning NAU's system.
"Hunter is a guy that hasn't had any games under his belt, but the great thing about him is his attitude," said Plough. "He's an extremely positive guy that has really earned his stripes and the respect of the older guys. He's going to help us out in many ways."
NAU boasts one of the best newcomer wide receiver units in the Big Sky. With three of the freshmen ranking in the top 30 in their position in the state of Arizona, Coach Plough has a pool of talent that will see playing time in their rookie season. The newcomers to the wide out unit include Emmanuel Butler, Quentis Clark, Dan Galindo, Andrew Gose, Zach Harbin, Elijah Marks, Bryant O'Georgia, Vincent Parrish, and Elijah Sykes.
"It's a talented group," said Plough. "We hit the jackpot. We happened to get all the guys that we were going after. They newcomers have come in right away and have made an impact. They've shown to be guys that can see playing time right now. They're excellent kids and it's going to be fun to watch them for a long time."
TIGHT ENDS, FULLBACKS
The NAU tight ends and fullbacks will have a familiar group of faces this season, after losing just one player.
Position coach Craig Knoth returns an experienced core led by a group of upperclassmen.
"Our goal is to bring intensity and effort into everything we do," Knoth said. "I've had some great groups in the past, and I expect for us to continue the tradition."
For the fullbacks, NAU has all-conference honoree Nick Butier on the roster. Butier started in seven games, and appeared in 12 games.
"Nick's a guy that's a very smart football player," said Knoth. "He's very capable of running routes, and his versatility will be leaned on this upcoming season."
"We are fortunate to have a group of leaders that have played a number of games for us," said Knoth. "It's great to have players who I can count on to lead the way."
Sophomore Patrick Baldenegro was a bright spot for NAU last year, as he recorded seven catches for a total of 89 yards and a touchdown. He appeared in 11 out of 12 games, and was a steady threat against opponents.
"I'm looking for Patrick to build on a fantastic freshman year," said Knoth. "He was able to see significant playing time as a true freshman, and I expect him to improve even more during his sophomore year."
Junior Michael DeGroote will contribute to the tight end line up and even see some time at fullback. DeGroote gives NAU a steady group of returnees that will mentor a young group of newcomers.
First-year offensive-line coach Adam Stenavich is working with a unit that returns three starters and six players overall.
"We're going to always pride ourselves in being the leaders of the offense," said Stenavich. "To have guys with a lot of playing experience is something that you can't teach as a coach because it's firsthand knowledge.
"We have a lot of guys who've done a lot of things for us. The good thing is that they can get a lot better, and they have gotten a lot better."
Senior Roy Garcia is at the center of the unit. He earned the team's Offensive Lineman of the Year Award in 2013, starting all 12 games and earning second-team All-Big Sky honors.
"As a senior I have to be a leader," said Garcia. "Every day we have to come out ready to play. Improving day by day is good, but we know we can be much better."
Garcia is joined by Eric Rodriguez and Jacob Julian, both of whom started all 12 games a year ago as redshirt freshmen.
Julian was an all-Big Sky second-team selection and was named the team's Outstanding Freshman of the Year.
Junior Joe Gurski returns to the line after being injured in the first game last season. Junior Leroy Guenther and sophomore Dylan LaFrenz also have game experience, and Tyler Shank redshirted last season.
Freshmen newcomers are Michael Ayache, Cole Habib, Makai Lui, Blake Owsley, Blake Porter and Josh Sparks.
NAU is known for having a solid defense. Despite all but one starter returning on the line, coach Travis Baker believes that his group is ready for the season.
"I've been really happy with the group's effort and competitive nature," said Baker. "We've got a lot of young guys in the group. They've been very coachable and attentive, and they're learning from their mistakes."
Junior Zach McDonnell the lone returning starter knows that only time and hard work will keep NAU level at a high level.
"We had a lot of older guys last season. They really taught me how to play hard and to make the most of your opportunities," said McDonnell. "Giving full effort 100 percent of the time makes you a much better player. The mental aspect of the game, along with intensity and technique are all things that we need to work on every day."
The loss of Tim Wilkinson as a starter and leader will be noticed, as he was a four-year starter for the Lumberjacks. Wilkinson, who etched his name in the record books before his departure, was an instrumental influence on the players and Coach Baker.
"There's no question that when you lose a guy like Tim it's tough, but we have a lot of other guys that need to step up," said Baker. "Both Zach and Junior (Vicente) have been internal leaders for us. They've done a really nice job with setting the tempo and making sure that we're getting the most out of each period."
Despite a lack of starters returning for the defensive line, NAU has a talent pool that is amongst the best in the conference.
Vicente, a senior, brings leadership and experience to a line that is otherwise full of newcomers.
Only three players on NAU's roster saw playing time last season, so it will be a necessity for players to step up and compete.
Keep an eye out for junior transfer Siupeli Anau, and redshirt freshmen Lorenzo Melvin, Javier Smith, and Deon Young. All have showed great progress during fall camp, and look to gain as many reps as possible.
In addition, the Lumberjacks have a talented freshmen class that will vie for playing time this season.
All-conference performer and last season' leading tackler Austin Hasquet leads the NAU linebacking corps, which is coached by defensive coordinator Andy Thompson.
"I love the effort that the guys are showing every day, so we just need to keep up the good work and we'll be ready come game time," Thompson said. "Saturday's become a lot easier when you're mentally and physically prepared."
Hasquet, a senior from Peoria, led the Lumberjacks with 91 tackles last season. He also had three interceptions, five pass breakups, one sack and five and a half tackles for loss.
"I definitely believe that we're going to be strong," Hasquet said. "We're a lot farther ahead than what I thought we'd be at this point. My expectations are very high for this defense and I fully expect us to be just as good as last year if not better."
Senior Craig Frum had 34 tackles as a sophomore in 2012 but had his 2013 season derailed by injury. Junior Harrison Johnson has played in 21 games during his two years at NAU with three starts. He had 13 tackles and an interception last year.
Jake Thomas is new to the linebacker crew after beginning his career at tight end. Newcomers to the program include Josh Bamrick, Conrad Burnap, Jake Casteel, Corbin Gouby, and Xavier Stephens.
Anders Battle completed a stellar career for NAU, but the Lumberjacks still have two more years with Marcus Alford. The junior started all 12 games last season and earned All-Big Sky honorable mention.
"Marcus is a great player, as people can see from all of the accolades," Rushing said. "What separates him from the rest is that he does it day-in and day-out; that's what makes him great. He's a leader and an extremely smart football player. The guys know they can depend on him."
"Marcus, Randy, and Blake are all doing a great job of bringing the younger guys up to speed," Rushing said. "They're showing the young guys what it takes to win games."
Behind the veterans are Louis Collins, Mo White III, Chad Bennett, Cole Sterns and Wesley Sutton.
Starters Lucky Dozier and Blair Wishom, two of NAU's top four tacklers last season, have moved on, leaving seniors Shawn Sharkey and Rob Watson as the most experienced options for Reeves to call upon.
"We lost a lot of guys," Reeves said. "Our experience comes back with Shawn Sharkey and Rob Watson. Those guys have been helping the younger guys get acclimated to everything. It's nice to have a pair of seniors on board, but it's going to be a maturing process all through the season."
There are no shortage of numbers for Reeves to turn to. Transfer Eddie Horn, Delvin Batiste and Jabari Marshall are battling for playing time. True freshman Calvin Gray and redshirt freshmen Jonathan Lyles and Ronnie Manning are hoping to gain experience, and further depth is provided by Devon McPeek and transfers Darius Lewis and Jordan Morgan.
The NAU specialists unit lost an All-American, who was one of the best in the country in punting, but a new year allows for new people to step up.
Missing from the unit this season will be All-American Andy Wilder, who departed due to graduation. Wilder was the Lumberjacks' punter for the past two seasons. A consistent player for the special teams unit, NAU will look to fill the void left by one of the best.
"We're kind of kicking by committee," head coach Jerome Souers said. "This year we have spread out the duties amongst the specialist. Each will handle their particular area, and we'll have to see where it goes from here."
Stepping up to the plate in camp was freshman punter Ben Sweet. The newcomer will have his hands full getting used to the speed of the game at the collegiate level, as he handles the punting duties this season. Backing up Sweet will be sophomore transfer Jordan Morgan, who also has some kicking experience.
Junior Ryan Hawkins and sophomore Brian Drulias will handle this year's placekicking and kickoff duties. Hawkins has the most experience out of the two after appearing in all 12 games last season. He recorded 58 kickoffs for a total of 3,561 yards and an average of 61.4 yards per kick.
Short snapper Hayden Renning and long snapper Andy Bachelier will lead the unit during their senior season. Both players have played important roles for NAU over the years, and will be called upon to do the same in their last year.
The Lumberjacks have an assortment of talent at the returner positions, but look for junior Alex Holmes or freshman Bryant O'Georgia to handle punt return duties. As for the kickoff returns freshman Elijah Marks and sophomore Delvin Batiste are solid possibilities.