Each of the past few Northern Arizona football fall camps have seen some former FBS players stand out early, such as Kendyl Taylor, Blake Kemp, Cory Young and, more recently, Daniel Bridge-Gadd.
This year follows that trend just a few days into camp with players that can either find time as first stringers, or play in injury relief.
Northern Arizona brought in six players who spent time at FBS schools, including Donovan Outlaw, UNLV; Keondre Wudtee, Oklahoma State; Jonathan Lolohea, Washington State; Emmanuel Joseph, New Mexico; Ceejhay French-Love, Arizona State; and Octavius Spencer, UCLA.
Joseph, French-Love and Spencer didn’t play a ton at their previous spots as back-ups, but got some first-string reps at Northern Arizona’s fall camp practice on Friday. Joseph was working as an edge rusher, French-Love at tight end and Spencer as first-string safety and second-string corner.
It was reported by 247sports.com last August that Spencer was kicked off the UCLA team for a violation of team rules, but he was granted his release from the program a few days after the report.
Just from a handful practices, it looks like more than a few of those players will see meaningful playing time as each are allowed to play per NCAA transfer rules.
"They are doing good, some are a little rusty," Lumberjacks head coach Chris Ball said. "They are doing good so far; what I'm impressed with is the effort they are bringing out there. They've been through the mix a little bit -- a lot, actually -- and it really helps our younger guys."
Wudtee is one of the most interesting of the group.
He originally started his career in Stillwater on an Oklahoma State team riddled with quarterback talent. A three-star recruit out of Bossier City, Louisiana, Wudtee fits the mold of many of Northern Arizona’s second-string QBs over the past three years.
Standing 6-feet-4-inches tall, Wudtee is a dual threat out of the signal caller spot; he routinely has made plays with his feet during the live-ball portion of practices. He still boasts a solid arm, albeit with a slower, more wind-up style of a release.
"He took off running and tucked it, but he can throw it too. He's got a good arm," Ball said. "The biggest thing is he is smart and calm, he doesn't get flustered. Again it's that he has been in the mix before. He understands the level of intensity you need to play with."
Much like Bridge-Gadd and Stone Smartt before him -- neither are with the program anymore -- Wudtee slots in as a dual-threat option behind starting QB Case Cookus.
Barring any drastic injury to Cookus, it seems unlikely that Wudtee would see much action this year, but he does come in with two years of eligibility left.
FITTING THE SYSTEM
Lolohea looks like the prototypical nose tackle for a 3-4 defense.
At 6 feet 2 inches tall and 300 pounds, Lolohea was expected to compete for the starting nose tackle spot at Wazzu but transferred before the 2018 season ever began.
He comes to Flagstaff with seemingly a fresh start to prove himself and compete with incumbent linemen for time up front. Throughout the first few days of camp, Northern Arizona has rotated multiple bodies around the front seven of the defense -- letting everyone show what they can do in the new 3-4 scheme.
Lolohea did have some issues with his level of conditioning going into this past spring, but that has been fixed, according to Ball.
"He is doing really well," Ball said of Lolohea. "When we got him this spring he was little out of shape, and he's done a good job getting in shape and doing the things he needs to do to play."
Between Jalen Goss and Aaron Andrews -- two players who received the bulk of the playing time at the inside defensive line last year -- and others looking for an opportunity, there is a ton of competition and options for Ball and first-year defensive coordinator Jerry Partridge to shuffle in and out.
Whether Lolohea is a starter or a back up, he gives Northern Arizona another body to put at nose tackle and let other players shift around -- also giving Northern Arizona the option for a two defensive tackle front if needed.
FILLING IN THE LINE
Northern Arizona is working with a pretty inexperienced group on the offensive line, with just two players in Chase Laurita and Luke Rudolph seeing major playing time last season.
Outlaw, another transfer who was expected to compete at his former school, played with the No. 1s at left tackle Friday -- as Cole Habib slotted in at right tackle. Protecting Cookus is a massive priority for Northern Arizona, and finding the right group to make it happen will take some time, but the pieces are there.
"One of our goals this season is to keep the quarterbacks healthy, especially Case," Ball said. "We talk about that every day in the offseason that we wanted to see some guys shore this thing up. I think we've done that."
Ball added that Joe Hakizimana, a junior college transfer, is in the mix on the offensive line but is currently finishing summer classes and will be practicing with the team soon.