The Northern Arizona University football team feels like it has some unfinished business.
The Lumberjacks finished 8-3 in 2012, but lost the final two games of the season and dropped out of the Big Sky playoff race. The team was ranked the highest it’s ever been at No. 20 in both the Sports Network and FCS Coaches polls.
Now NAU is ready to finish the task it started last year: win a Big Sky Championship.
Head coach Jerome Souers said the entire team showing up Friday for evaluations and today’s first practice is a sort of culmination of the excitement the team feels heading into the season.
“The anticipation of the season is here and we had a great spring and sounds like we had a great summer,” Souers said. “We’ll find out when everybody shows up for the conditioning test. We approach the season with great expectations and ideas of what we can accomplish.”
NAU returns 14 Big Sky All-Conference players to help Souers and his staff integrate 19 new players.
One of the most important spots left to fill is that of the starting quarterback. Chase Cartwright and Kyren Poe look to be the top two contenders for the spot.
Replacing graduated quarterback Cary Grossart — who started the past two seasons — is no small task. However, Souers said the team has a few good candidates who will continue competing for the job.
“We have guys with abilities and it’s just up to who shows up the best at camp,” he said. “There’s good talent and ability and strong leadership. It’s a choice we’ll have to make during camp.”
Cartwright filled in during Grossart’s injury last season but injured his knee. After seven months of rehab, Cartwright is 100 percent and has been cleared for full duty. He’ll compete with Poe, who had a strong showing at NAU’s Spring Game.
OTHER STARS ON OFFENSE
Senior Zach Bauman, who was named to the 2013 Walter Payton Award Watch List, will anchor the Jacks offense in the backfield. Bauman is 119 yards short of claiming the NAU career rushing record.
Leading the Jacks passing game will be seniors Dejzon Walker and Ify Umodo, and they will have help from tight ends R.J. Rickert and Drew Emanuel.
Opening holes and protecting the quarterback will be a veteran offensive line anchored by Shane Moniz, Roy Garcia, Joe Gurski and Kyle Walker.
signed in the offseason
Souers said things don’t always follow a team from season to season. He did add, however, that the camaraderie and competitiveness of the 2012 team should still be there this year.
“Our competitiveness (from last year) should carry over into this season. Our team was competitive no matter the situations we faced, especially in the second halves of games,” he said. “Also, when you have a lot of coaches returning, you maintain a lot of the traction from one year to the next. The guys we have returning are in better condition and have certainly improved their skills, so all those things are positive.”
Defensively Tim Wilkinson and Chima Ike will stack up against the run on the front line to lead a veteran-laden defense. Anders Battle picked up an All-Conference First-Team honor last year and is an All-American preseason pick in 2013. He will lead a secondary that includes Lucky Dozier, Mike Dosen and Blair Wishom. Austin Hasquet and Ryan Reardon are returning at linebacker for the Jacks.
Souers added the defense was a big part of the Jacks success in winning games and said it will have to play even better this year.
He also stated the team needs to follow through on its early-season work.
“Some areas where we need to improve would be finishing at the end of the season,” Souers said. “We didn’t get done what we wanted to get done. We didn’t finish what we wanted to do, so we have a chip on our shoulders. We’re all looking forward to the opportunity to come back out and build on the growth of last year.”
On special teams, All-American kicker Andy Wilder enters his senior year after leading the Lumberjacks in points in 2012. Wilder led the nation in punting last season with an average of 46.3 yards per kick and had 25 punts that went more than 50 yards.
The Lumberjacks start the season at Arizona Aug. 30 and open the home season against South Dakota Sept. 21. There are just under four weeks between the opening practice and the Arizona game, and Souers said this year’s camp is quite unique.
“We really have our first game in between just seven weeks of practice,” he said. “We have a good idea of who can and who can’t, so we’re going to focus on our new guys and looking at them and assessing where they need to go.”
NAU’s first practice is from 4:30-6:30 tonight at the upper practice fields adjacent to the dome.
Bill Harris can be reached at email@example.com or 556-2251.
2013 NAU Football Schedule
Aug. 30 at Arizona
Sept. 14 at U.C. Davis
Sept. 21 vs. South Dakota
Sept. 28 vs. Montana
Oct. 5 at Montana State
Oct. 12 at Sacramento State
Oct. 19 vs. Idaho State
Oct. 26 at Cal Poly
Nov. 2 vs. North Dakota
Nov. 16 vs. Northern Colorado
Nov. 23 at Southern Utah