The Northern Arizona football team received good news over the holiday break.
Lumberjacks quarterback Case Cookus announced via his Twitter account while he was with family in California that he plans to use his fifth year of eligibility to continue his college career in Flagstaff after he nearly missed the entire 2018 season with a broken right collarbone.
"Excited and proud to announce that I will start grad school and continue my playing career at Northern Arizona University! #GoJacks," Cookus said via his Twitter account.
Cookus had to mull over the decision with his family. The news came 18 days after the school introduced Chris Ball as its new head football coach and gave the program a sigh of relief as the new year began.
“I don’t think one thing pushed me to come back to NAU. I think that overall I wanted to play at least one more year to see what happens when it comes to the draft next year,” Cookus said Wednesday. “ … It was just kind of a group of talks and understanding it with my parents and picking out the best options. We thought the best option was to stay at NAU and play one more year.”
Northern Arizona lost its star quarterback for the year in just the second game of the 2018 season -- a loss that eventually derailed the Lumberjacks’ season as they finished 4-6 overall in former head coach Jerome Souers’ final year.
It is safe to assume that Cookus will be the Lumberjacks starting quarterback if he his healthy heading into offseason practices, based on what he has been able to accomplish in his career. When Cookus is injury-free, the Lumberjacks greatly benefit offensively. In his two fully healthy seasons in 2015 and 2017, the Lumberjacks offense averaged 35 points per game, just shy of a touchdown better than the 29 points the team scored on average in the two seasons he missed due to collarbone injuries in 2016 and 2018.
The star quarterback's presence has made a noticeable impact in the win column for Northern Arizona. The Lumberjacks have gone 14-9 in his two healthy seasons, including a trip to the FCS playoffs in 2017. In the only full game he played last season, Cookus led the Lumberjacks in an upset over FBS school UTEP on the road.
Cookus is ranked in the top five in three of Northern Arizona’s all-time passing records, including passing yards, passing touchdowns and completions, and he has an outside shot of breaking two of those marks. He needs just 21 passing TDs to surpass Jason Murrietta’s record of 94 and Cookus’ 7,968 career passing yards is 3,433 yards shy of breaking Travis Brown’s top all-time mark of 11,400 yards.
While breaking the records remain a goal Cookus wants to accomplish for his legacy, he said his primary focus is getting the team back to winning.
“I definitely have my personal goals that I set for the season each year and some of those goals involve records, but for the most part I just love to win games,” Cookus said. “If we’re winning games, then the records will come.”
Along with breaking in a new head coach next season, the Lumberjacks will need to find a way to replace one of the best receivers in program history in Emmanuel Butler -- a target that Cookus was well acquainted with the past four years.
Despite the two missing large chunks of time due to injuries over their careers, the duo was one of the top wide receiver-quarterback combos in the Big Sky, connecting on 92 completions for 1,728 yards and 21 touchdowns in 16 full games.
“I was proud to see Emmanuel break his records and I am happy with what we were able to do even though I was part of it for just a little bit with all the injuries,” Cookus said.
Cookus said he is still working his way back to full health and that his rehab might overlap with spring practices, but he is confident that he will be ready once summer camp begins, which usually begins the first or second week of August.
Cookus added that he is confident in how he feels and how his progression has gone since the football season.
No announcement has been made on who will be running the Lumberjacks offense next season, but currently the coaching staff list still has Aaron Pflugrad as the offensive coordinator on the team’s website.