When it comes to recruiting football talent right in your own backyard, Northern Arizona University has the process down pat.
The Lumberjacks’ 2011 class has 17 signees, with 11 from Arizona high schools and junior colleges.
That’s more than the state’s other two Division I schools combined. Arizona’s class of 17 included just three locals, while ASU pulled in 5 from the group of 14.
The allure of playing in the Pac-10 draws many of the better in-state prospects. It’s not hard to pick between playing before the 7,400 fans that showed up for home games last season at NAU and playing in the rockin’ stadiums in Tempe and Tucson.
So NAU, which is a D-I school but plays in the Big Sky Conference, has to look for the gems-in-the-rough that are often passed over by the ‘major’ programs.
And find those that don’t mind plodding through Flagstaff snow drifts to get to practice.
No better example is the potential future passing & catching combo the Lumberjacks’ got in quarterback Kyren Poe from Hamilton HS in Chandler and wide receiver Alex Holmes from Chaparral HS in Scottsdale.
Both are accustomed to winning and will bring that mindset to Flagstaff, where the Jacks finished last season 6-5 overall and 4-4 in conference.
Poe was on three state championship teams at Hamilton, leading the Huskies to the 2010 5A-I state title and a perfect 15-0 season. He threw for 2,133 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior and was named to the All-Region First Team.
Holmes helped the Firebirds to a 44-2 record, three state championships appearances, and back-to-back state titles. He earned All-State, All-Region, and All-City honors.
Head coach Jerome Souers, who has been convincing recruits to give his program in the high country a try for the past 12 years, recognizes the level of talent that is available without having to go beyond the state’s borders.
“I believe that Arizona high school football in the last 10 years has shown tremendous growth in its competitiveness with football players across the country,” says Souers. “Our goal to create a football team with an Arizona core falls in line with our vision (for the program). Not only will they help us in 2011, but this group paints a bright future for our football program.”
Centennial High School was the only school that is sending two players to play for the Jacks. Jake Abbott, a 275-pound center, and linebacker Tevin Ray also signed to play for Souers.
Abbott also played on the defensive line in helping the Coyotes to three region championships and the 4A-II state title in his sophomore year. Ray played outside linebacker, a position that enabled him to record 91 tackles in both his junior and senior years to earn him the region defensive player of the year last season.
Ray is one of many linebackers the Jacks are adding. There are 11 defensive players in the 2011 class and five of them are linebackers.
The other local products who will be in a Lumberjack uniform in the fall include:
Lee Guenther, Wickenburg HS. A 6’7″ offensive lineman who also plays on the defensive line, where he was a 1A-3A All-State first team selection.
Anas Hasic, North Canyon HS. A region offensive player of the year at wide receiver who holds every receiving record at the north Phoenix school and also contributed 60 tackles last year on defense.
Austin Hasquet, Liberty HS (Peoria). A 4A Skyline defensive player of the year and All-State first team linebacker, he recorded a school-best 334 tackles in his high school career and set a Liberty record with 158 in his final year.
Harrison Johnson, Greenway HS (Phoenix). At 6’3″, an easy target for quarterbacks, he uses his track skills to advantage. He won a region title in the high hurdles and a runner-up in the high jump.
Ryan Reardon, Notre Dame Prep (Scottsdale). A transfer who played a year at Portland State and then Glendale Community College, where he played linebacker and helped that team to a bowl championship. At Notre Dame, we was part of back-to-back state championship teams.
R.J. Rickert, Mesquite HS (Gilbert). A tight end who was a three-time All-region selection, Region player of the year, and 5A All-State first team selection. He made 40 catches his senior year for 724 yards.
Dejzon Walker, Basha HS (Chandler). Another tight end, Walker is coming off a season when he pulled in 43 catches for 680 yards and finished his high school career with 1,500 yards receiving. He set school records for receiving yards in a game (195) and career touchdowns (19).
The remaining six out-of-state recruits include four from California: Marcus Alford (center), Mitchell Melugin (defensive end), Eric Storey (linebacker), and Aaron Williams (defensive back). Add to those Bryson Mook, a defensive lineman from Las Vegas, and Devin Willis, a cornerback from Miami, Fla.
(Photo: NAU Athletics)