After being picked to finish first in the Big Sky Conference in the preseason media and coaches polls for the first time in school history, the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks open fall practice on Monday in Flagstaff.
It will be NAU's 19th season under head coach Jerome Souers.
The Lumberjacks are led by the passing combination of sophomore quarterback Case Cookus and junior wide receiver Emmanuel Butler, both of whom have earned preseason All-America acclaim. They'll be operating behind an offensive line that returns four starters, led by seniors Jacob Julian and eric Rodriguez.
The NAU defense is led by senior linebacker Jake Thomas and senior cornerback Leandre Vaughn. The defensive line is hoping for reinforcements from a pair of seniors returning from injury.
QUARTERBACK: Cookus ranked second in the FCS in passing efficiency, seventh in passing yards per game, eighth in total offense and broke the FCS freshmn record by throwing 37 touchdown passes. He was intercepted just five times. He's backed up East Carolina transfer Blake Kemp, a former high school standout at Hamilton High in Chandler who passed for 16 touchdowns last season at East Carolina.
RUNNING BACK: Junior Corbin Jountti rushed for 378 yards and six touchdowns on 78 carries last season. Senior Kendyl Taylor ran for 249 yards and caught 21 passes for 204 yards. They'll be pushed by incoming freshmen Nate Stinson of San Diego and Joe Logan of Estrella Foothills. Stinson ran for 1,989 yards and 35 tuchdowns as a senior; Logan was a record-setting springer at Estrella Foothills.
WIDE RECEIVER: Butler broke an NAU record last season with 1,208 receiving yards and tied the school record with 15 touchdown receptions. Juniors Elijah Marks and Hunter Barton are the other experienced members of the receiving corps.
TIGHT END/FULLBACK: Junior Patrick Baldenegro redshirted last season and will be competing for playing time with sophomore Jonathan Baldwin, who appeared in all 11 games last season on offense and special teams.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Senior left tackle Jacob Julian and junior center Blake Porter were named to the preseason all-conference team. Senior left guard Eric Rodriguez has been a fixture on the line for two season, and junior Tyler Shank also returns as the starting right guard.