NAU football breakdown: Tight ends
By Steve Shaff
Northern Arizona Media Relations
Northern Arizona Media Relations will provide position preview every day leading up to the season opener against Arizona State on Aug. 30. Today: tight ends.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – When the Lumberjacks line up against Arizona State on Aug. 30, the tight ends will be challenged with multiple duties in the Northern Arizona offense. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello will have at his disposal three players with talents to help his unit in many ways.
“We are absolutely fortunate to have tight ends that are versatile,” said Scangarello. “They all complement each other. We have a great run-blocking tight end in Drew Emanuel and a complete player like R.J. Rickert, who can go down the field and block. I feel really confident that they can complement each other and put pressure on defenses and safeties with matchups. We are really excited about the group.”
Rickert enters his sophomore season after playing in all 11 games as a true freshman. He was a standout at Mesquite High School in Gilbert, earning selection to the Arizona Republic’s All-Arizona team. He was named the Central Region Player of the Year after recording 40 catches for 724 yards as a senior. In his first year in Flagstaff, he had eight catches for 145 yards, highlighted by a season-high three catches for 49 yards against Southern Utah in season finale.
“R.J. is the best all-around vertical threat in the passing game and a run blocker in the running game,” said tight ends coach Craig Knoth. “He is a good football player who understands the game and knows how to move around and adjust. He does things right consistently on the first try.”
Rickert says the depth of the group is an asset to the team and what they can contribute.
“The tight end position is pretty deep,” said Rickert. “We have a lot of versatility. The tight end group is close. We have four tight ends that can really move some people and run. It is a fun group to be with.”
Joining Rickert at the position is junior Drew Emanuel, who provides solid run-blocking. The Mesa Highland High School product, who led his prep team with 20 receptions for 285 yards and four touchdowns as a senior, played as a true freshman and has seen action in 21 games in his career.
“Drew’s strengths are his consistency and durability with great overall knowledge of the offense and what we are trying to do,” said Knoth. “He is the most experienced in the group after playing as a true freshman and sophomore.”
Sophomore Beau Gardner joined the team last season from Mesa Community College. He originally signed with NAU out of Mesa High School before going on a two-year LDS mission. He saw action in 10 games last season as a redshirt freshman.
“Beau has great athletic ability and is pretty consistent in the run game,” said Knoth. “He also has the ability to get down the field and do some things for the offense.”
Knoth wants his unit to be accountable on every play with their energy and effort, providing plays that help the team move the ball both on the ground and in the passing game.
“We talked about being physical and tough and assignment conscious,” said Knoth. “We want to do things right the first time and be effort players that can be counted on every play. We want to make plays with the key block in the run game to spring (the running back) or making a play vertically down the field.”