Zach is back. And that was enough to give the NAU faithful assembled yesterday a ray of hope for a new year in college football.
Zach Bauman offered those who stepped out into the spring sunshine on the Northern Arizona University campus in Flagstaff yesterday a glimpse of what he will bring to the program as a junior next season.
The running back from Hamilton High School in Chandler accounted for 181 yards of offense in the annual Blue-White spring game that caps off the spring practice season – 146 of those yards on carries.
The Lumberjacks officially closed out spring practice for Division I football in Arizona. Down the hill, the two newest additions to the coaching ranks had already finished their spring games. Arizona State, under first-year head coach Todd Graham, wrapped up last weekend in Tempe, and Rich Rodriguez concluded his first spring practice in Tucson as the new Wildcat boss a couple of weeks ago.
But up in Flag, Jerome Souers is getting ready for his 15th season as the head coach of the Lumberjacks. And he’s brought some additional help on board to try to get the Jacks back onto the winning track following a disappointing 4-7 season.
Rich Scangarello has stepped in to take the place of Brian Lindgren, Souers’ offensive coordinator who left to take a similar position at San Jose State. Scangarello most recently was the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach at Millsaps College in Mississippi, but had perhaps the most success at UC Davis, where his offense there was ranked 11th in the nation in 2008, racking up 426 yards a game. He was also an assistant quarterback coach in the NFL, with the Oakland Raiders.
Joining him is Jeff Lewis, who also brings NFL experience with him. An NAU Hall of Fame quarterback during his college days, he ranks second on the school’s all-time list in pass-completion percentage (59.6), passing yards (9,639), and touchdowns (67). He played in the NFL for five years, following a fourth-round selection by the Denver Broncos in the 1996 draft.
The hiring of the pair sets up a vision of the Calvary arriving to save the day, as the troops circle the wagons.
Last season’s 4-7 finish is just the latest struggle for the 53-year-old head coach who enjoyed his most successful seasons back in 1999 when he was named the Big Sky Coach of the Year and 2003 when the Jacks won the conference title.
However, the only winning season in recent years was a 6-5 finish in 2010.
And Souers has just two seasons left on the three-year contract extension he was given after the 2010 season, as a show of confidence by the administration. The clock is ticking.
A new offensive coordinator will bring fresh ideas to a program that already had a pretty balanced offense last year. The Jacks were averaging 28 points a games last season, scoring 19 touchdowns on the ground and 17 in the air. They rushed for an average of 166.5 yards per game and threw for another 268.
And yesterday’s practice game seemed to confirm their ability to get on the scoreboard again this year.
The White team, behind Buaman’s big running performance, won the game, 62-53 – although the numbers are somewhat skewed because of a new scoring system installed for the first time this year. Points were awarded for first downs, runs of 15 yards or more, etc. And the defense could add points with turnovers, stopped drives, sacks, etc.
“The scoring system really worked well,” said Souers after the game. “It was a great exchange. At times, the offense looked great, and then the defense made a big play. The scoring was indicative of the scrimmage; there were good plays on both sides of the football.”
Bauman, an All Big-Sky selection last season as a sophomore, led the offense by accounting for two touchdowns and 20 points on his own. That shouldn’t come as any big surprise… he led the Big Sky Conference in rushing last season, with 130.5 yards per game; his 1,435 total rushing yards were the third-best in school history.
Quarterback Cary Grossart added another 118 yards and two scores on 11-for-15 passing. Freshman Kyren Poe, a teammate of Bauman at Hamilton High School before being recruited to NAU, finished the day 7-for-8 for 89 yards, while another freshman, Jordan Perry, went 5-for-9 for 56 yards.
Eleven different receivers caught at least one pass, with Ca’leve Deboskie leading the way with four catches for 62 yards. Deboskie, a sophomore wide receiver, is also a local from the Chandler area, but graduated from Chandler High School.
Nick Cole, another sophomore, had three catches for 54 yards, and senior Austin Shanks picked up 37 yards on a pair of catches.
“I think the offense is hitting on all cylinders,” said Bauman, in assessing the game. “We have been coming out here three times a week to prepare, and I think we showcased what we are capable of doing next season.”
Bauman and his teammates will have to put that show on the big stage when the season arrives because they will open against Arizona State at Sun Devil Stadium. That means there will probably be a crowd similar to the 51,761 that showed up to watch last season’s opener against Arizona in Tucson.
Compare that to the 4,398 that were on hand for the Lumberjacks’ final home game last season.
The Sun Devils will have a new head coach and a new quarterback, since Brock Osweiler left to ply his trade in the NFL.
But even with that, that Aug. 30 meeting won’t resemble the Blue & White game. And it will be back to the old scoring system.
And back to reality for the Jacks.
(Photo: NAU Athletics/ Brandon C. Vance)