Northern Arizona’s quarterback room has a different look to it this year.
With just two of last season’s quarterbacks back, one of which is coming off a redshirt season, the position has seen some change -- with the top being the exception.
Coming off a season which saw him throw for 3,413 passing yards and 22 touchdowns with just six interceptions, starting quarterback Case Cookus comes into this season as one of the top signal callers in the Big Sky Conference.
Cookus’ 2017 season, which ended in a First Team All-Big Sky selection, was accomplished without the wide receiver many consider to be his best weapon in Emmanuel Butler, who missed most of last year with a shoulder injury.
After Cookus, there are four other quarterbacks on the roster. Coming off a redshirt season is the second of the two returning quarterbacks Connor Leavens along with freshmen Gino Campiotti and Marco Baldacchino, and highly touted Washington transfer Daniel Bridge-Gadd.
Cookus has far and away the most playing experience of anyone in the group with more games played than anyone at the collegiate level.
“Case has been in the offense and has an understanding that is head and shoulders above anybody else,” Northern Arizona head coach Jerome Souers said following the team’s first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday.
For the group as a whole, Cookus said that adding Bridge-Gadd’s experience of playing for a Pac-12 school brought a helpful element to the position.
“It’s looking good. We got a lot of young guys, so I think everyone is coming along really well,” Cookus said Saturday. “I think for us it’s just learning the playbook and getting everything down. It’s good for us to have experienced guys, like us, who have been there before.”
After a visit with Northern Arizona offensive coordinator Aaron Pflugrad, Bridge-Gadd knew where he wanted to end up after deciding to transfer from the Huskies.
While on a visit to Flagstaff, Bridge-Gadd said Pflugrad showed him multiple plays and told the dual-threat quarterback exactly how he would fit into the Northern Arizona offense. Shortly after, he had made his decision to continue his football career in Flagstaff.
In high school, Bridge-Gadd was a stand-out at Paradise Valley in Phoenix. During his senior season in 2015, he threw for 4,268 yards and 47 touchdowns, both school records. He also completed 251 of 374 passes and threw nine interceptions.
In addition to his success as a passer, he rushed for 627 yards and 17 touchdowns on 139 carries en route to being named the Gatorade High School Player of the Year for Arizona.
Despite his production in high school, he was lightly recruited with Washington taking notice the summer after his junior year, and in total had five FBS offers and two FCS offers.
Besides Washington, he had offers from New Mexico State, San Jose State, Tulane, UNLV, South Dakota State and Big Sky member Eastern Washington. Northern Arizona never offered him.
While at Washington, he was redshirted during his first year on campus, and then only saw game action once in 2017.
With four-year starter Jake Browning and Georgia transfer Jacob Eason now at Washington, it seemed that Bridge-Gadd would have had a difficult time cracking the depth chart in Seattle.
“I knew I wanted to come home. That was the big thing. I really like what Coach Pflu has going on with the offense and the way it worked, I feel like I fit in better here than what I came from, no disrespect to anyone up there,” Bridge-Gadd said after media day on August 5.
Bridge-Gadd’s decision to transfer to Northern Arizona, he said, was most influenced by how close Flagstaff is to Phoenix, the place he grew up.
“That’s why I chose to come here, so my mom and dad can come make every home game,” said Bridge-Gadd, who has three years of eligibility remaining.
Throughout the first week of fall camp, Bridge-Gadd has received some high praise from his coaches. Both Souers and Pflugrad raved about Bridge-Gadd’s ability to create plays both on the ground and through the air, which can open some plays for Northern Arizona's offense.
Last season, Northern Arizona played two quarterbacks in nine of its 12 games with Stone Smartt, who has since transferred to Riverside City College in Riverside, California, entering for Cookus at times. After a week of camp, it appears Bridge-Gadd will be used in a similar role at some point during the season.
Whether it was by designed runs, scrambles to avoid the pass rush or with his arm, Bridge-Gadd showed some of what could make him a valuable piece to the Northern Arizona quarterback position during the team's scrimmage Saturday.
Bridge-Gadd showcased his ability to make plays in a number of ways. At one point, he bumped a run to the outside for a 20-yard score and later connected on a five-yard touchdown pass.