HERO Sports welcomes you to "Three-a-Days", where we will preview every single one of the 126 FCS programs from June 17 to August 6. Then, we'll preview all 13 conferences from August 12-15. Today, we present … Northern Arizona.
We'll leave no stone left unturned when it comes to giving the FCS diehards all they could ask for this offseason. Learn about every program in the country, with HERO Sports.
[divider]MORE FCS FOOTBALL:
- FCS Home
- FCS Preview Schedule – Team Links
- The HERO Sports Preseason Top 25 Poll
- Preseason All-American Teams
Northern Arizona (4-6 IN 2018)
Big Sky (NAU finished 8th in 2018)
COACH: Chris Ball – At School: 1st year Overall: 1st year
LAST FCS POSTSEASON: 2017 (First Round)
2018 OFFENSE: 25.8 ppg (76th in FCS)
2018 DEFENSE: 32.2 ppg (84th in FCS)
KEY GAME: Sept. 21 @ Illinois State: The Redbirds are preseason ranked No. 9 and looking like a strong team this year. It's a great opportunity for NAU to build some momentum right before conference play begins.
SUM IT UP: The Lumberjacks are dealing with tragedy right now with the news of offensive lineman Malik Noshi passing away earlier this week. The 2019 team will dedicate this season to Malik's memory.
The Lumberjacks have an experienced team hungry for a return to the postseason under first-year head coach Chris Ball. This team has star power. Unfortunately, some of those standout players have suffered injuries, especially offensively. A big boost for the offense is getting quarterback Case Cookus back. Cookus is one of the best at his position in the FCS, but he's missed most of the 2016 and 2018 seasons due to injury.
When healthy, Cookus is a stud. He was the 2015 FCS Freshman of the Year, a 2015 All-American and a 2015 and 2017 All-Big Sky First Team selection. Despite playing only two full seasons with four games played in 2016 and two last year, Cookus has thrown for 7,968 career yards and 74 touchdowns.
A key for NAU is replacing the production of wide receiver Emmanuel Butler, who is now in the NFL. Brandon Porter is the top returning pass catcher after hauling in 28 passes for 325 yards and one touchdown. Those numbers would've been more, but NAU's quarterback room was so beat up that Porter ended up playing QB the final three games. Chancellor Brewington is also a big target to keep an eye on.
The Lumberjacks lose their top rusher, but Joe Logan was right behind Cory Young with 449 yards rushing and five touchdowns. The offensive line returns two starters: center Chase Laurita and right guard Luke Rudolph. The group will play with emotion as Noshi was a two-year starter up front.
Defensively, the unit needs to tighten up after being in the bottom third of the FCS with 32.2 points allowed per game. Three of the top four tacklers are gone, but seven of the top 11 tacklers return. Those returners have to replace a lot of production along with NAU developing new starters and depth behind them. Adjustments will be made as well with the 3-4 base defense being implemented. Jalen Goss and Aaron Andrews lead the defensive front after earning 2018 All-Big Sky honors. Linebacker Tristen Vance finished second on the team with 73 tackles last year and returns. Taylor Powell is also a big name coming back after missing significant time last year. He was a 2017 All-Big Sky Honorable Mention performer.
The secondary was loaded with talent last year and ranked 14th in the FCS with 179.7 passing yards allowed a game. There are some big shoes to fill with replacing two All-Conference safeties in Kam’ron Johnson and Wes Sutton along with All-Conference cornerback Maurice Davison. Having Khalil Dorsey back there is a good place to start, though. He's one of the top cornerbacks in the Big Sky Conference and was named on the First Team last year.
All three specialists are back, led by Third Team All-Big Sky punter DJ Arnson.
OUR TAKE: Hiring Chris Ball was a great move for NAU. He previously was the defensive coordinator at Memphis and has a reputation over his 30 years of coaching college football of stressing strong defense. That's key for the 2019 squad because the Lumberjacks are going to be scary good offensively. Looking at last year's schedule, NAU lost three games where the offense scored 26 points or more. That'll drive a coaching staff crazy. If the defense can tighten up, expect the Lumberjacks to rise in the Big Sky standings.
[divider]SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast
COUNTDOWN: The Best Player in FCS Who Wears Each Number, 1-99
TOP RETURNEE: Sr./QB Case Cookus (Played in 2 games last year due to injury, 2015 and 2017 All-Conference First Team)
THE FOUNDATION: Sr./CB Marcel Myers (HERO Sports All-American on ST); Sr./CB Khalil Dorsey (All-Conference First Team, 9 PD and 3 INT); Sr./DL Jalen Goss (AC Third Team, 40 tackles and 10 TFLs); Sr./DL Aaron Andrews (AC HM, 10 TFLs and 4 sacks); Jr./P DJ Arnson (Third Team AC)
TOP NEWCOMER: Sr./DL Jonathan Lolohea (Washington State transfer, transferred shortly after arriving on campus)
THE QUOTE: "You just mix the defensive skills up. You need to find a spot. We want to get our best 11 football players out on the field, so sometimes you need to move some guys around to do that. You don't want to stack your best players. You want to get your best 11 on the football field and when you can get your best 11 out there, then you have a chance. It just takes some tweaking." — head coach Chris Ball said
WERE WE RIGHT?: Last Year's NAU Preview
FCS 2020 NFL PROSPECTS: The List
BEST FCS TRADITIONS: The List
PREVIEWS: The Rest Of The Big Sky
Montana | Montana St | NAU | UNC
Portland St | Sac St | SUU | UC Davis | Weber St
SUBSCRIBE: HERO Sports FCS Podcast