Earlier today, I got the chance to catch up with Daniel Berk, the NAU beat writer for the Arizona Daily Sun and talk about some Lumberjacks football. I know it's tough to track down information about I-AA schools and opponents, so hopefully this Q&A will answer some questions you've got about what to expect from Northern Arizona come August 30.
Pitchfork Nation: The quarterback position still seems to be up in the air. Who's the leader right now between Lance Kriesen, Michael Herrick and Corey Slater to take over under center?
Daniel Berk: Coach Jerome Souers has been rotating the three quarterbacks with the first-team and no QB has taken reps with the one’s for consecutive days since fall practice has started. That said, it would seem at this point of practice that Kriesien has the edge. I think the biggest reason for that is his familiarity with the offense and his familiarity with the personnel. Last season, he threw for 1,897 yards with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His biggest strength though is his legs evidenced by his 686 yards on the ground last year. The coaching staff was hopeful that Kriesien would improve his throwing motion and footwork over the offseason and it appears he’s done that. He’s more of a vertical threat now with the passing game than he was last year and his footwork on his straight drop-backs is much cleaner. In the end, if he can translate his improved passing skills into games, he’s the biggest threat under center because he’s a dual-threat. The other two have strong arms and can get it downfield, but aren’t much of a threat to run.
PFN: JuCo transfer Conrad Meadows is looking to become an immediate impact player for the Lumberjacks. What are his most dangerous attributes?
DB: Meadows has had some really strong practices so far this season and seems like the definite starter at the slot receiver position. From what I’ve seen, his main strength is his ability to get open. He never gives up on plays and is constantly moving around, getting open. Once he gets open, he seems to be have nice hands. He’s the type of player who’s one of the first on the field and one of the last off of it. NAU has a definite void to fill at that position after losing All-American Alex Watson to graduation. Meadows, although a bit on the small side, seems to give the Lumberjacks a legitimate threat at that position this year.
PFN: Freshman RB Deonte Williams is diminutive but is highly touted coming out of Northern California. What do the coaches expect out of him in his first year?
DB: With Williams, I think the expectations are for him to get his feet wet this season. NAU has preseason All-Big Sky First Team running back Alex Henderson back and he’ll get most of the carries this season. Williams will get some chances, but I wouldn’t expect him to have double-digit carries too often, if at all. NAU has another freshman running back, DeAnte Piper, out of Fort Worth, and the coaching staff is very high on him too. It seems like both of these guys will play as true freshmen. I would also expect Williams to get a look at kick returner. It seems like Meadows has the early edge on punt return duties.
PFN: The last two times ASU and NAU have played (2003 and 2006), the Jacks have made it a distinctly competitive game through at least the first half. Is there any extra motivation for NAU to get up for playing in Tempe?
DB: I think a lot of these guys have some extra motivation for this game, but I think it’s more linked to recruiting than past games with the Sun Devils. A lot of these guys are from the Valley and feel like they were overlooked by ASU out of high school. Senior tight end Shaun Fitzpatrick, who is from Gilbert Highland High School, has made comments about that and feels like he was disrespected when he was a high school senior when ASU wouldn’t give him the time of day. There are several other impact players on NAU that hail from the Phoenix area and share some of the same feelings Fitzpatrick does.
PFN: Who on defense should ASU be looking out for?
DB: The headliner on defense is cornerback K.J. Gerard. Gerard was a third-team AP All-American last season and had six interceptions, which was tops in the Big Sky. Gerard is a fifth-year senior who, in my eyes, seems to have the best shot at playing at the next level. He’s a solid open field tackler (probably one of the better ones on NAU’s roster) and is a strong cover guy. The secondary seems like it’s going to be the strength of the defense with Gerard and safety Cyrus Igono. Igono was an All-Big Sky First Team pick last year and led the team with 79 tackles. Since the Lumberjacks play a 3-3-5 flex defense, Igono creeps into the linebacker spot a lot and can cover a lot of ground with his speed. Another guy to watch on Aug. 30 is linebacker Cody Dowd. Dowd was an All-Big Sky Honorable Mention pick last year, but was much stronger towards the end of the year than in the beginning. Dowd, a junior, has that prototypical size for a linebacker at 6-3, 250 and is the only Junior captain on the roster.
PFN: NAU is in the national preseason FCS top 20...where do the Lumberjacks fit into the Big Sky this season?
DB: NAU was picked to finish third in the league by the media and fourth by the coaches. The two favorites this year are Eastern Washington and Montana. The way the schedule sets up, EWU and Montana are two of NAU’s last three games on the schedule. I would expect when the Jacks head to Missoula on Nov. 1, they’ll be in the hunt for a league title. The last three games against Montana, Montana State and EWU should determine if NAU will be able to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Montana State was picked third by the coaches, so the last three games are against the top three teams, at least according to the coaches.
Photo Courtesy: NAU Athletics