NAU football begins spring practice in search of a QB

While college football coaches generally want to avoid a pre-season quarterback controversy, NAU’s Jerome Souers might actually be sorry he doesn’t have one this year.

His Northern Arizona Lumberjacks are going through the paces of spring football practice, enjoying a roster that is both deep at the skill positions and experienced overall.  They return 44 letter winners and 11 starters.

Experienced, that is, except at the one position that matters most.  Yep, quarterback.

The Jacks will lose Michael Herrick to graduation in another month or so and will have some big cleats to fill.  Herrick finished his college career as the school’s all-time leader in completion percentage (65.0) and yards per attempts (7.5).

In his final season, the 2008 transfer from Ole Miss set a new school passing record, throwing for 574 yards against Eastern Washington, and had five games during the 2010 season when he threw for 300 or more yards.

And he also went out in a blaze of glory, earning the Jacks their first winning season (6-5) in three years by throwing for 261 yards and four touchdowns to destroy Portland State, 62-14, in the season finale.

Waiting in the wings is Chasen Stangel, who will have the maturity that comes with being a senior next season.  But little game experience.

The 6’1″ signal-caller from San Jacinto, Calif., saw playing time in pieces of nine games last season, but was on the field long enough to collect just 376 yards passing.  The year before, he came off the bench in just three games, completing 4-for-7 attempts for 14 yards.

Maybe you remember Stangel from the days when he was wearing maroon and gold.  He was the No. 3 QB at Arizona State in 2008, but didn’t see any game action, so decided he needed a change of scenery and headed for the high country of Flagstaff.

Unfortunately, NAU already had a pretty good guy under center.  But at least Stangel moved from No. 3 to No. 2.

Now, he has the opportunity to step into a starting role and try to fulfill the promise he showed when graduating from San Jacinto High School in 2007 as one of the top quarterbacks in California.

He was a four-star prospect that was ranked as the No. 16 pro-style QB in the country.  He left San Jacinto as that school’s all-time leading passer, with 5,764 yards.

But he may soon be looking over his shoulder, with an incoming freshman quarterback from Hamilton High School in Chandler due to arrive by the summer.

Kyren Poe was on three championship teams at Hamilton, leading the Huskies to the 2010 state 5A-I 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.

But, overall, the offense is in good shape.  They return a couple of productive starters at wide receiver, Austin Shanks and Mike Czyz, and the outstanding freshman running back, Zach Bauman.

Bauman is another Hamilton HS product, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in his first season of college ball and, in the process, broke the school’s freshman rushing record.

On defense, the Jacks return just four starters, but a total of 22 letter winners that include Big Sky All-Conference selections, lineman Isaac Bond and linebacker Scott McKeever.  A 225-pound soon-to-be senior, McKeever was a first team All-State selection at Wickenburg High School.

And for those grind-it-out, close games, kicker Matt Myers and punter Drew Zamora will be back on the field in 2011.

Since construction is still underway at the Walkup Skydome on campus, the 15 spring practices are being held at Sinagua High School in Flag, as will the spring game on April 30 to close out the spring schedule.

(Photo: NAU Athletics/Jennifer Hillderbrand)