Signing day brings new info on NAU football’s future
With a new head coach and a new staff, the Northern Arizona football team unveiled its 24-member 2019 recruiting class Wednesday night at Twin Arrows Casino.
The size of the signing class came a bit as a surprise considering that much of the coaching staff wasn’t finalized until nearly January, but the incumbent coaches held the class together while waiting for the rest of the staff to join.
“It really attributes to Aaron Pflugrad, Robin Pflugrad and Jimmy Beal. They really held it together, keeping guys interested, and we came in and finished it off,” Lumberjacks head coach Chris Ball said.
The class includes 12 scholarship players from California, nine from Arizona and one each from Texas, Hawaii and Washington. The Lumberjacks brought in three junior-college players included in the class. In all there are 12 offensive and 12 defensive signees.
The Lumberjacks also brought in Coconino High School’s Ty Furr as a preferred walk-on, and he will likely play defensive back or special teams. Furr’s high school teammate, Keegan Trainor, is also walking on as a tight end, making them the first city school athletes to join the Lumberjacks in football since 2016 and the fifth and sixth in the past 15 years.
Over the past few years Northern Arizona had run a base 4-2 defense with a nickelback, using multiple other looks depending on matchups throughout games.
For most of his career Ball has coached 3-4 teams, and new defensive coordinator Jerry Partridge said that’s exactly the base defense the coaching staff has planned for Northern Arizona.
The defense on paper looks to be a match for the roster, as the Lumberjacks boast athletic ends that were used similar to 3-4 outside linebackers last season in Carson Taylor and Brandon Lawless -- and added some recruits that fit the bill of a pass-rushing linebacker. Although Taylor only recorded 2.5 sacks last season, he led the team with five quarterback hurries. Northern Arizona dropped defensive ends into coverage often, similar to how an outside linebacker is used in a 3-4 scheme.
“There are some kids that are kinda ends and nickels. And some of the kids that are playing nickel, are they safeties, nickels or outside backers?” Partridge said. “Some of the kids that are playing D-end, are they outside backers or rush? Where they need to play is something we are going to figure out.”
Ball reiterated that the Lumberjacks would run a base 3-4 and added that they would still run multiple schemes based on looks from opposing offenses.
Partridge spoke highly of the defensive class, saying he expects each to have a chance to compete for playing time.
“I tell everyone that the 23-year-old version of you will be a better football player than the 19-year-old version, but if the 19-year-old version can help us win, then that’s what we’ll do,” he said.
Partridge said he was impressed by the Lumberjacks secondary, which was one of the best in the FCS with 17 interceptions. Partridge said the coaching staff is seeing if they are able to get a fifth year of eligibility out of one of the departing senior corners, but didn’t specify whom.
“I’ve heard some really great things about the corners and one of them we are trying to get a fifth year out of and get a year back, and (Khalil Dorsey) is an incredible hurdler -- which is good because we demand a lot out of our back end,” Partridge said.
Sources confirmed that Maurice Davison is the candidate for the medical hardship. Northern Arizona football’s website shows that Davison played in just five games in 2016 before being sidelined with an injury, but the five games played is too many to qualify for a medical redshirt or even for the new redshirt rule passed this past summer.
To qualify for a medical redshirt, the injury must have had occurred in the first half of the season and the player could not have played more than three games. The new rule states that players taking part in four or fewer games are eligible to be redshirted -- a change from the rule that stated players could not receive a redshirt if they play in even a single game.
Sources said an appeal is being made to the NCAA to try to grant Davison a fifth year of eligibility.
INSURANCE ON OFFENSE
While the defense will be getting a bit of a shake-up, the offense got some insurance in case of emergency.
The Lumberjacks signed two quarterbacks out of California, Dawson McPeak and Jeff Widener, making six quarterbacks on the roster as of now. Aaron Pflugrad said the oversigning at the position was to avoid last season’s disastrous circumstance when Northern Arizona had to resort to a wide receiver under center as injuries piled up.
“That’s why you see us signing two in this year’s class,” Pflugrad said. “Obviously having Case (Cookus) and Daniel (Bridge-Gadd) coming back, but also seeing what happened last year and never wanting to be in that situation again where you’re without quarterbacks and guys that have experience and that can really spin the ball.”
It’s unclear if the team will indeed have all six quarterbacks next season.
SIGNING A ‘SUPERBACK’
Pflugrad teased a new type of player that the Lumberjacks hope to develop. He calls it a “superback” and signee Alishawuan Taylor, a 6-foot-4-inch, 240 pound tight end, fits the mold. The idea, Pflugrad said, is to have a player who can line up anywhere on offense -- whether split out wide or lined up in the backfield or even near the line as a blocker -- to cause problems for opposing defenses.
“Having the ability to do all those different things is great,” Pflugrad said of Taylor. “ ... A guy that was really under the radar; if more teams knew about him, he’d be going to the Pac-12 for sure.”
No date has been set for Northern Arizona’s spring game.