April 19, 2013

Quarterbacks Bringing Out the Best in Each Other in Spring

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – As the NAU football spring season has progressed a three-way battle to replace two-year starter Cary Grossart as the team's starting quarterback has continued to unfold.

It's a healthy competition between sophomore Chase Cartwright and redshirt freshmen Jordan Perry and Kyren Poe as the three push each other to be the best signal callers and leaders of the offense that they can be heading into the team's second scrimmage at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the Upper Fields.

"It's a blast," Poe said. "Chase obviously pushes us because he's been there and he has experience with the two starts that he got last year and Jordan and I are trying to just learn as we go. I've learned a lot from these two guys just watching them and talking to them after plays, so it's been great."

Cartwright came into the spring with the most game experience, as he threw for 461 yards and three touchdowns in three games last year, including leading NAU to its historic win over UNLV. He suffered a season-ending injury and is still recovering from knee surgery, but NAU head coach Jerome Souers has been impressed with his progress as he works his way back to full strength

"Chase is coming off a knee surgery last year so his ability to take live reps has been limited, but he's shown great strides and is regaining the rhythm and technique he has as a thrower and a quarterback," Souers said. "We're excited not just about his leadership and presence but the way he manages the offense."

Perry was the backup to Grossart last year after Cartwright went down, appearing in two games and throwing two touchdowns against Fort Lewis while completing eight of 11 passes overall.

"Jordan had a great offseason," Souers said. "He's been throwing the ball very, very well with excellent accuracy and making the correct reads. Both he and Chase are mobile athletes as is Kyren, so watching them create in the pocket has been fun to see them develop."

Having spent time as both a quarterback and receiver last year, Poe has impressed his fellow quarterbacks and teammates with his skill and athleticism this spring.

"Kyren has shown tremendous improvement," Souers said. "His athleticism is so evident when he has the ball in his hands. He is able to hurt you with his feat and he's able to create time in the pocket. His awareness of coverage and route progression and concepts has also shown maturity."

Replacing a two-year starter and All-Conference performer at such a critical position is never easy, but the three returning quarterbacks learned from Grossart how to shine as the leader of the offense.

"Cary was a great example," Cartwright said. "I've been here the longest and I really got to know Cary over the last three seasons and how he demonstrated leadership. He had a lot of fire and passion for the game and I think we're trying to emulate that work ethic. He was a great player here and we're trying to step up our game to fill his shoes."

In battling for the coveted role the three qb's have to had walk a fine line between being competitive and being supportive, but the closeness of the group has made the process enjoyable.

"It's great because we're all friends," Perry said. "There are no bad feelings or bad energy towards each other so that makes it great."

The team has just four practices remaining – including Saturday's scrimmage – before playing in front of fans and a national television audience in its Spring Game next Saturday, April 27, at 2:30 p.m. in Lumberjack Stadium. The game will be a final chance before summer camp for the quarterbacks to showcase their talents.

"That's what we've been waiting for," said Perry of the Spring Game. "Coming out every day and practicing gets repetitive and so getting to play in a more game-like situation, we can't wait for that.

"All three of us have gotten equal reps and we've all gotten opportunities to get in there and show what we can do," Poe said. "I know whatever happens we're going to stay close and bring out the best in each other."