Former local prep stars lead NAU football into 2017 season


Northern Arizona University fields a Division I football team.  But, when the school’s mid-major FCS program tries to recruit in-state it has to take its place in line behind the big boys since Arizona has two Pac-12 football programs.

Thankfully, the state has enough talent to help stock the Lumberjack program – as illustrated recently when the Big Sky Conference announced its preseason All-Conference teams.

Of the 27 players named to the team, three were Lumberjacks.  All three were local products.  And all three were unanimous selections by a group that includes Big Sky media members and sports information directors.

The list includes a couple of seniors, Emmanuel Butler from Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix and Tyler Shank from Chandler High, and sophomore Griffin Roehler from Agua Fria High School in Avondale.

Butler has gained the most recognition throughout his career, simply by virtue of his wide receiver position that has allowed him to make his mark in the stat columns.

And those stats have been impressive.  He will come into the 2017 season with a good chance to set two of the school’s career records.  Butler needs 597 receiving yards to break the NAU record in that category and is just three touchdown receptions away from the other record.  He ranks fourth in the NCAA in career receiving yards and yards per game.

He already holds the single-season record of 1,208 receiving yards, so 597 is well within his reach.

A record-setting senior season will be a fitting way to cap off a football career that included helping Mountain Pointe to an undefeated season and the Phoenix school’s first-ever state championship.

Tyler Shank, on the other hand, has to rely on team statistics rather than individual stats to prove his worth.  Based on that criteria, the 6’3″, 285-pound offensive lineman has had a couple of very successful years after redshirting his freshman season and seeing action in just five games the following year.

He started 10 games as a redshirt sophomore and then enjoyed a break-out year last season.  During that sophomore season, the O line provided the protection needed to enable the school’s fourth 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver in the same season.

Last year, the line provided the kind of protection that earned the team a fifth-place ranking among FCS programs in sacks allowed at 0.73.  The Lumberjacks racked up 5,230 yards of offense behind its experienced line.

Rounding out the trio is Roehler, who was a Big Sky first-team selection as a freshman, when he made 13 of 16 field goals and 44 of 45 extra-point attempts.  His 83 points led all players.

At Agua Fria he broke the small-schools career record for PATs (99) and field goals (20) and also set the single-season mark for PATs in a game (12) and in a season (47).

The Lumberjacks under-achieved last season, finishing 5-6 overall and 4-4 in conference after having been picked in the preseason to win the Big Sky.  They go into this season projected to finish third in the conference.

They will be tested early.  The ‘Jacks open the season on Sept. 2 on the road at Arizona.

(Photo: NAU Athletics)