In 2015, Northern Arizona experimented with a new offensive scheme and a new offensive coordinator, as the Lumberjacks went out to prove that although they have been known in past years for their defense, this year the offense was looking to make noise.
For the second time in three years, the Lumberjacks went undefeated at home in conference play in the Walkup Skydome. It all started with a 41-5 win over New Mexico Highlands and closed out with a 49-35 Senior Day victory over Sacramento State. NAU averaged 52.0 points per game at home, including a season-best 63 points in the win over Northern Colorado.
After a misstep on the road at UC Davis, NAU decided as a team to score 49 points in every game moving forward – in honor of their teammate Michael DeGroote, who passed away this summer. He was No. 49.
As a squad, the team went on a four-game winning streak, putting them in position for a share of the conference title in the regular season finale on the road at Southern Utah.
The Lumberjacks took the field in Cedar City giving it all they had. NAU held a 14-point advantage at the half, but the Thunderbirds were able to produce 35 points in the second half to move past NAU.
For NAU, the season didn't end the way it wanted, but there was nothing to hang their heads low about. They were ranked in the top 25, knocked off a top four team for the second year in a row, and Lumberjack fans watched nothing but wins in the Walkup Skydome.
Four Lumberjacks earned All-American honors this season led by Case Cookus. The quarterback was named the STATS FCS National Freshman Player of the Year, in addition to being the Jerry Rice Award recipient. He finished just short of FCS National Offensive Player of the Year voting coming in fifth place. Cookus picked up 11 national honors, while senior punter Ryan Hawkins finished his career with seven honors. Sophomore wide receiver Emmanuel Butler was tagged with four All-American honors after his record season, and senior cornerback Marcus Alford added a pair of accolades to his resume.
Fourteen players earned a sum of 15 All-Big Sky Conference accolades, with Cookus earning Co-Freshman of the Year honors.
Cookus broke an 11-year-old NCAA FCS freshman record for most touchdown passes in a season with 37, also an NAU single season record. At the end of the regular season, Cookus had the most touchdown passes in a single game in the FCS with seven, had been responsible for seven touchdowns in a game twice, and led the FCS in passing touchdowns.
Butler, Cookus' biggest target, set a new NAU single season receiving yards record of 1,208. He also tied a school record 15 touchdown receptions and tied for the team-high in scoring with Hawkins.
While NAU loses Alford and Hawkins due to graduation, the Lumberjacks have plenty of pieces of the puzzle still left for the 2016 season. Cookus and Butler are the 1-2 punch on offense, but there is a heavy presence of wide receivers, running backs, and offensive lineman to head that group. On defense, the line will be the most experienced unit coming back with Lorenzo Melvin, Deon Young, and Siupeli Anau leading the movement.