Spring game didn’t solve NAU’s quarterback dilemma

Even after 15 years at the same old job, Jerome Souers can’t wait to get the new year started.

Northern Arizona University‘s head football coach just wrapped up spring training with the annual Blue & Gold game and he can barely contain his enthusiasm for the coming year.  “I think we made ourselves deeper,” he said.  “We’ve added a lot on our offensive line, and defensively we are extremely deep as well.

“We’re much improved and I’m excited!”

A little improvement could go a long way since the 2012 squad finished the season 8-3 and barely missed making it into the Football Championship Series (FCS) playoffs – despite finishing the season with a No. 20 national ranking.

The Lumberjacks will return nine players on both sides of the ball – including the All-Big Sky Conference running back, Zach Bauman from Chandler’s Hamilton High School who needs to pick up just 118 yards in his final year to become the school’s all-time rushing leader.

However, the one thing they don’t return is a starting quarterback.

Souers lost two-year starter Cary Grossart to graduation after last season.  But he has some talent in the wings and will probably not be able to sort out the starter until fall practice gets underway.

Chase Cartwright, the 6’3″ signal caller from Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, is expected by many observers to be the front-runner for the job.  The junior-to-be got the most playing time last year among the three who will be vying for the job in the fall.

Cartwright got an early baptism of fire last season, being called upon to replace Grossart after the senior hurt his knee in the second quarter of the opening game with Arizona State.  Cartwright started three games, throwing for 461 yards and three touchdowns.  His stock went sky-high after he led the ‘Jacks to an upset win over UNLV, the first time since 1987 the school has beaten an FCS opponent.

Jordan Perry saw action in two games.  The redshirt freshman (in 2012) from Portland, Ore., was 8-of-11 passing and threw for a pair of touchdowns in a 69-0 blow-out win over Fort Lewis, in which he shared playing time with Cartwright.

The third competitor for that starting spot under center was another redshirt freshman in 2012.  Kyren Poe stood out in the Blue & Gold game as he completed 16-of-25 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown.  The newcomer from Hamilton High is actually listed as a wide receiver on the 2012 roster, but will return to his high school position at quarterback, from where he led the Huskies to three consecutive state championships.  If Souers installs Poe as the 2013 quarterback it will unite him in the backfield with Hamilton teammate Bauman.

Cartwright, still trying to make a full recovery from his knee injury, wasn’t given the opportunity to play in Saturday’s game and has been limited in spring practices to passing drills. Bauman was also held out of the game, due to what was reported as a “minor injury.”

And that’s a shame because a crowd estimated at 1,152 fans showed up to see what NAU has coming up for the new season – and a Fox Sports Arizona television audience had tuned in as well, marking the first time the football program has enjoyed coverage of its spring game.

But that didn’t dampen the head coach’s enthusiasm.  “The last couple years our program has grown leaps and bounds,” said Souers after the game.  “This game gave us the opportunity to involve the community, the campus, and anybody watching on TV to see that this program is moving in the right direction.  I’m really pleased with what we saw today.”

That optimism last year faded quickly when the ‘Jacks were embarrassed by a 63-6 loss in their season opener to Arizona State – but recovered by posting eight straight wins following that loss.   This year, they will face the other Pac-12 bully when they kick off the 2013 season against the Arizona Wildcats on Aug. 30 in Tucson.

It’s a new season ahead… but that first bump in the road won’t be any easier than last year. Especially with a new quarterback at the controls.

 (Photo: NAU Athletics)