FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Senior Jarret Bilbrey and junior Tim Wilkinson are on the cover of the Northern Arizona football poster as two of the faces of the program entering the season. You will need a roster to figure out the rest of defensive line mates when the Lumberjacks line up against Arizona State on Thursday.
While the defense returns seven starters, the unit needed specific help on the defensive line to fill the void left by the graduation for four experienced players, including three starters in Isaac Bond, Dan Pela and Blayne Anderson.
NAU head coach Jerome Souers addressed the need for impact and depth at the position by recruiting two mid-year transfers — Chima Ike and Steven Garcia — and four additional junior-college transfers that arrived in Flagstaff this fall.
“I think they have come a long way since they got here,” said defensive coordinator Andy Thompson. “We have a lot of new faces, and Coach Baker has done a great job of getting them to learn the system and play extremely hard. I am excited to see them go out and play the first game.”
Justin Jungblut, a transfer from Boise State, also will be in the mix.
“Justin has brought some height to the position,” Thompson said of his 6-foot-5 transfer. “He has brought a good demeanor of playing hard and I hope that he continues that and uses that throughout the season.”
Bond, a two-time All-Big Sky selection, was the leader based on experience and performance, and Bilbrey, a returning starter, hopes to take over his role. He was named the Defensive Outstanding Junior of the Year after seeing action in all 11 games (seven starts) and recording 27 tackles and five sacks. He is joined among the returnees by Wilkinson, an All-Big Sky honorable-mention selection and the program’s Outstanding Sophomore of the Year. He recorded 30 tackles with a team-best 6.0 tackles for loss last season.
“Tim Wilkinson and Jarret Bilbrey bring a lot of experience and return with a strong understanding of what is required of our defensive line,” said Souers.
The returning duo had led the newcomers’ quick adaptation during fall camp.
“They have been great leaders,” said Thompson. “We expect a lot out of them, and they expect a lot of themselves. So they are looking to have a great year and lead that group.”
The Lumberjacks like to play several players on the line to keep everyone fresh. Bilbrey enters the season as the starter at left end and is backed up by junior-college transfer George Dunlap. Wilkinson will start at tackle, with mid-year transfer Ike and Junior Vicente behind him. Jungblut or Marc Thompson could start at the nose tackle spot, while mid-year transfer Garcia and Quentin Kantaris are battling at right end.
“I have liked Garcia’s competitive nature and wanting to win all the time,” said Thompson. “He has the ability to get to the football and has shown his athleticism in the spring and fall practices. I am very excited about him.”
With the positive additions, Thompson likes the potential of the defense but realizes the success of the unit depends on each area working together.
“Everything starts with those guys up front,” said Thompson. “If we can stop people up front with the run game and make them a one-handed fighter, it opens up the pass rush. They are part of the defense, and we have to have all three parts playing well for us to do what we want to do.”