After Friday’s scrimmage in the Walkup Skydome, Northern Arizona Lumberjacks head football coach Chris Ball was blunt about his team’s depth.
“We’re not very deep -- not very deep,” Ball said. “Our numbers aren’t great. We’ll fix that in the fall, but yeah, the next guy up, and some guys have really showed us they are capable of playing and helping us next year. That’s good to see.”
Injuries, transfers and the fact that the incoming recruiting class isn’t yet on campus all play into the depth issues as spring practices near their end.
Friday gave way for lesser-known players to make their mark on the team with more well-known talent sidelined due to injuries. Wide receiver Riley Langton made a pair of big catches in the early portion of the scrimmage, the first coming from Case Cookus off a vertical route down the sideline.
Langton, along with other receivers, has gotten extended looks with presumed starter Brandon Porter out with a wrist injury and because of recent transfers at the position, including former Basha star Terrell Brown.
Malik Lovette, who stood out all spring as a slot option and at times as a ball carrier, went down with a severe-looking ankle injury near the end of practice. Lovette was tackled to the turf and immediately grabbed his ankle, which appeared to be dislocated. He was taken from practice via ambulance.
“It’s part of the game, unfortunately, and hopefully he’s OK and we’ll find out,” Ball said.”
Lovette played sparingly last season, his first with the Lumberjacks after transferring from Oregon, appearing in just eight games, catching eight passes for 67 yards.
Another spot of concern for the Lumberjacks is quarterback depth. Cookus is easily established as the top option, but with his injury history, a viable backup is needed.
With the uncertainty around the injured Daniel Bridge-Gadd, the No. 2 reps have been going to Gino Campiotti and Heath Beemiller all spring.
Campiotti played in a handful of games last year while the Lumberjacks struggled with injuries under center, while Beemiller was the practice squad quarterback. Both have been inconsistent in the spring, at times throwing on-target dimes and then underthrowing receivers.
Despite some of the struggles on the surface, Ball said he has liked what he has seen out of the two young quarterbacks so far this spring.
“Heath was doing a great job, Gino is doing a good job,” Ball said. “There’s a really good battle going on there. The thing I’ve noticed: they are getting better each day. They get better and better. They haven’t really taken a step back. As long as they are doing that, we’re good, but the minute they take a step back, that’s something we don’t want to happen.”
Last Saturday the Lumberjacks traveled to Chandler High School in the Valley to play a spring scrimmage at the high school, a decision Ball said he made to get the team in an early road game type of mindset in the spring.
Ball said he later realized the trip allowed for some recruiting advantages.
“When I first thought about it, I didn’t think about it as a recruiting deal, I thought of it as a chance to take the team on a bus to travel two and a half hours, hop off and play a game,” Ball said. “ … Then I started thinking it was a pretty good recruiting deal.”
Northern Arizona coaches couldn’t actively recruit players while at Chandler, due to NCAA regulations, but the trip quickly segued into a trip to 100 Arizona high schools earlier this week.
Recruiting the Valley, as well as the rest of the state of Arizona, has been a top priority for Ball and his staff since their arrival to Flagstaff. Ball added that the talent level at the Arizona high schools originally helped to draw him to Northern Arizona.
Although Ball’s first freshman class isn’t on campus yet, he said he has had to keep down the expectations from some on his coaching staff.
“We got a great group of freshmen coming in, but they’re freshmen,” Ball said. “I try and keep the coaches from getting too excited about them because they are freshmen.”
The Lumberjacks will conclude spring practices with the annual spring game Friday at 6 p.m. in the Walkup Skydome.