There was more than an unwelcome chill hanging in the air Saturday in Flagstaff during the annual spring game for the Northern Arizona University football program. There was also an uneasy anticipation among the surprisingly large contingent of hearty fans that showed up to brave the rain and cold temperatures hovering near 40 degrees.
The weather is just one of the uncertainties you face in late April when you’re playing at an elevation of 7,000 feet. But the weather wasn’t the biggest question in the air this year.
The buzz around Flag right now centers on the recent announcement that Connor Brewer has decided to take his game from the desert floor in Tucson, where he spent one season on the sidelines at the University of Arizona, to the high country at NAU, where he hopes to finally find some playing time.
That quest for playing time is what has led him to Northern Arizona. During his four years at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, the 6’2″ athlete with a rocket arm was one of the most celebrated quarterbacks in Arizona prep history. He lost just two games his entire high school career and led the Firebirds to three straight state championships, finished with 7,574 passing yards, and set a new big-school state record with 100 touchdowns.
He had his pick of in-state colleges, but opted instead for the bright lights of the big national stage at the University of Texas. But after sitting out a redshirt season, it was apparent he wasn’t going to be able to work into the starting role anytime soon; the starter had a couple more years of eligibility.
So he took a second look at the Arizona schools and decided it might be easier to work into the line-up at a school that wasn’t attracting the kind of talent the Longhorns enjoyed.
However, after deciding on the Wildcats’ program, he spent two more years on the sidelines. The first year he sat out to meet NCAA transfer rules, but the second year he was blindsided when head coach Rich Rodriguez gave the starting QB job to a redshirt freshman from the national prep powerhouse, Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. Anu Solomon led Gorman to four state titles and threw for almost 3,000 yards as a senior.
He wasted no time proving that his coach had made a good choice. Solomon led the Cats to a 10-win season, a top-10 national ranking, and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. His 3,793 passing yards put him at No. 2 on the school’s all-time list, and his 28 TD throws tied the school record in that category.
Solomon has three more years of eligibility, so once again, Brewer moved on – this time to a FCS school where the competition likely wouldn’t be as stiff as what he was finding at the bigger D-I programs like Arizona and Texas.
NAU has a starting quarterback returning in Kyren Poe, but that key position hasn’t been one of stability the last couple of years. Poe, a senior from Hamilton High School, has been sharing QB duties with Chase Cartwright, who is graduating. And last season, a third signal caller was inserted into a couple of games due to injuries.
The team has been relying on its defense to post a 7-5 record last season and a 9-3 mark in 2013.
That opens the door for Brewer, who most observers see as the favorite to take over the starting role in the fall- despite that fact that Brewer has spent three years at two different colleges and hasn’t taken a single snap under center in a game.
But that doesn’t seem to bother head coach Jerome Souers. “I know he hasn’t played a lot of college football, but he has been practicing college football at a very competitive level,” he said in a recent article in the Arizona Daily Sun. “The skills he has developed are going to translate into quality-performance quarterback play at out level.”
And Souers says he wants to put more zip into his offense this season, speeding up the game with more plays, scoring more quickly and with more explosiveness. Last season, the Jacks averaged just 26 points a game, which was seventh in the Big Sky Conference.
The kind of offense Souers wants to install takes a quarterback who can throw the ball really well – the kind of quarterback Brewer used to be when he was picking apart defenses in high school.
Brewer was at the spring game, but reportedly watched from above the field in the press box. Souers is anxious to get him down on the field once he gets his classes at Arizona behind him, and give his new recruit a close-up look at the new system, and let him get familiar with yet another new team.
That first game of 2015 isn’t all that far away. The Jacks open on the road Sept. 5 against Stephen F. Austin, the second straight year they open the season in Texas. They won in the Lone Star state last year when they beat Abilene Christian, 27-21.
But this year will be different. A different game plan. A different offense. And maybe a different quarterback.
The traveling odyssey of Connor Brewer will likely end in Flagstaff, where he has two more years of eligibility remaining on a promising college career that has been stalled for too long.
And, fortunately for Lumberjack fans, a lot can get done in two years.
(Photo: NAU Athletics)