With Ralph Amsden of ArizonaVarsity.com reporting the football programs at Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix and Scottsdale Community Colleges would be eliminated following the 2018 season, Northern Arizona’s football program appears likely to lose an outlet that aided the university in developing future recruits.
Monday’s news came less than 48 hours from national signing day, with the Lumberjacks set to announce their incoming class at noon on Wednesday at the High Country Conference Center. Recently, Northern Arizona has looked to the Valley colleges for recruits. In the past seven seasons, the Lumberjacks had at least three players who originally played at a Maricopa County Community Colleges District program on the roster.
“It’s a credit to the junior college programs that shape student-athletes and prepare them for D-I ball,” said Lumberjacks head coach Jerome Souers. “Football is a developmental sport; between the ages of 17 and 19 years old a lot of changes take place. A lot of those guys who are late maturers won’t show their senior year, but will two years later. Those guys end up getting missed in recruiting, and the JCs allow them to develop and they get opportunities. The JCs serve really well for that particular type of student-athlete.”
Northern Arizona listed six players on its 2012 roster, with at least one from each school, the highest total during its recent run of recruiting the local junior colleges. More recently, the Lumberjacks started a player from all four schools during the 2016 season. Byron Evans (Glendale), Blake Kemp (Mesa), Keith Graham (Phoenix) and Siupeli Anau (Scottsdale) combined for 33 starts two seasons ago.
Evans played often in his first season with the Lumberjacks and started four games before becoming a full-time starter as a senior in 2017. Graham started all 11 games of his senior season at safety, and Kemp ended up as Northern Arizona’s starting quarterback for two-thirds of the season when Case Cookus broke his collarbone.
Anau is likely Northern Arizona’s most notable recent graduate of the MCCCD programs. He went on to earn All-Big Sky Conference first-team honors for his senior season that included 8.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. Released in training camp by the Arizona Cardinals, Anau spent time on the team’s practice squad during the year and currently resides on the roster of his home state NFL franchise after signing a future contract in early January.
A graduate of Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Anau played at Scottsdale Community College before transferring to Northern Arizona.
“Peli was a real good football player coming out of high school, but was undersized, and his final growth spurts were still ahead of him,” Souers said. “Give him a couple years to do that, he sure looked different coming to us two years later than he would have coming out of high school.”
The loss of the four schools would drop Arizona’s total of junior college football programs to three, with Eastern Arizona in Thatcher, Arizona Western in Yuma and Pima in Tucson remaining.
The influx of potential walk-ons, seeking a roster spot on a D-I program rather than early playing time at a junior college, would put Northern Arizona into a similar position to many others in the Big Sky Conference.
The states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington and Utah have few if any junior colleges to pull away potential walk-on athletes from. While the cost for athletes to attend school in order to play will increase and potential challenges to qualify academically may arise, the added space for players in camp would leave Northern Arizona more likely to fill up its walk-on spots with in-state talent.