By Cuyler Meade
If you heard that watching Northern Arizona University football was like watching an Arizona high school game, you might think someone was trying to have some fun at the Lumberjacks’ expense.
But it’s not the quality of play that resembles the Friday night game. It’s the guys in the pads.
NAU, under longtime head coach Jerome Souers, has made a point for years of recruiting in-state guys, and if you’re a fan of Arizona high school football, you would do well to check out what he’s been doing in Flagstaff.
Souers calls NAU the “best-kept secret in Arizona,” and he might be right. The unheralded FCS program was quietly the most successful college program in the state last season, going 7-4 and staying undefeated at home.
Souers attributes much of the Lumberjacks’ success to his recruiting model.
“We like the model of having at least half your team from the state of Arizona,” Souers said on ‘The Brad Cesmat Show.’ “It’s so helpful in other ways, with alumni relations, with the team having an identity and a commonness about them.”
NAU’s roster is Arizona prep players up and down the list, and it has been for years.
“Emmanuel Butler is prepare to emerge,” Souers said of the former Mountain Pointe receiver. “And Elijah (Marks, out of Desert Edge) and Dan Galindo (of Pinnacle), and of course we get off of redshirt Patrick Baldenegro from Chandler high school, a notable tight end receiver type.”
And that’s just the receivers.
Three out of five of last year’s starters on the offensive line are from Arizona. Last season’s 1000-yard running back, Casey Jahn, went to Northwest Christian. The Lumberjacks’ sack leader from last year, Jake Thomas, went to Mesa Mountain View.
Three of the top four tacklers last season, Thomas, Josh Bamrick (Mesquite) and LeAndre Vaughn (Agua Fria), are Arizona natives. Joe Logan, Jahn’s heir apparent at tailback, is out of Estrella Foothills. And that’s just scratching the surface.
“Our commitment to have 50 percent of our team from the state of Arizona has really helped our team chemistry, and the guys come into the locker room and everyone has a sense of who you are,” Souers said. “Maybe you don’t know him directly, but you know of them, so there’s respect coming in already.”
After 18 years with the program, Souers has dialed in his formula. Lately that formula has equaled success.