FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The Northern Arizona football team is known for having a solid defense. Despite all but one starter returning on the line, coach Travis Baker believes that his group is ready for the season.
"I've been really happy with the group's effort and competitive nature," said Baker. "We've got a lot of young guys in the group. They've been very coachable and attentive, and they're learning from their mistakes."
Junior Zach McDonnell the lone returning starter knows that only time and hard work will keep NAU level at a high level.
"We had a lot of older guys last season. They really taught me how to play hard and to make the most of your opportunities," said McDonnell. "Giving full effort 100 percent of the time makes you a much better player. The mental aspect of the game, along with intensity and technique are all things that we need to work on every day."
The loss of Tim Wilkinson as a starter and leader will be noticed, as he was a four-year starter for the Lumberjacks. Wilkinson, who etched his name in the record books before his departure, was an instrumental influence on the players and Coach Baker.
"There's no question that when you lose a guy like Tim it's tough, but we have a lot of other guys that need to step up," said Baker. "Both Zach and Junior (Vicente) have been internal leaders for us. They've done a really nice job with setting the tempo and making sure that we're getting the most out of each period."
Despite a lack of starters returning for the defensive line, NAU has a talent pool that is amongst the best in the conference.
Only three players on NAU's roster saw playing time last season, so it will be a necessity for players to step up and compete.
Keep an eye out for junior transfer Siupeli Anau, and redshirt freshmen Lorenzo Melvin, Javier Smith, and Deon Young. All have showed great progress during fall camp, and look to gain as many reps as possible.
In addition, the Lumberjacks have a talented freshmen class that will vie for playing time this season.