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Lumberjack Football: Defensive and Special Teams Season Preview

Defensive Coordinator Andy Thompson
Defensive Coordinator Andy Thompson

CORNERBACKS

• It will be good for NAU to have junior Ronnie Manning back, after missing the latter half of the season due to injury.

• Stepping up last year was sophomore Cole Sterns who appeared in 10 games recording 24 tackles and five pass breakups.

• At the other cornerback slot you can find sophomore Maurice Davison and junior Mo White II lined up. As a true freshman last season, Davison started five of nine games tallying 31 tackles. White was plagued with injuries, but is expected to make a solid return.

• Keep an eye out for incoming freshman Myles Dumas, who has quick hands and feet.

 

SAFETIES

• The veteran strong safety will be senior LeAndre Vaughn. He transferred in last season from Glendale Community College and was fourth on the team in tackles with 62 in addition to a pair of interceptions.

• Making the transition from cornerback to safety is junior Wes Sutton. He started five of nine games a year ago registering 23 tackles.

• Senior Keith Graham (25 tackles) and sophomore Kam'ron Johnson (16 tackles, 3 PBUs) return at free safety with both players vying for that top spot.

• Newcomers Jairus Woodson and Desi Ethridge will arrive this fall to give the safety unit a bit of youth and speed.

 

NICKELBACKS

• Sophomore transfer Brandon Worthy showed promise in the spring, having joined from Orange Coast College. He will be a good addition to a group that will be rather young.

Ryan Phillippe, a redshirt freshman, will be joined by incoming freshmen Ju'Shawnte Spann and Khalil Dorsey. Dorsey, an all-state athlete in track & field is a two-sport athlete that can really make a difference come fall. Both Spann and Dorsey can switch between the nickel and cornerback positions giving NAU multiple looks on defense.

 

LINEBACKERS

• Senior linebacker Jake Thomas started all 11 games a year ago. Making his presence known, Thomas was third on the team in tackles with 68 and second in tackles for loss with 7.5. His explosiveness led to a team-best 4.5 sacks for a drop of 24 yards.

Jake Casteel is the only other returning linebacker who started a game, when he was called upon at UC Davis. The sophomore was the only rookie last season to rank amongst the Top 10 on the team in total tackles being credited with 39 in his debut season.

• If you look at the depth chart for the linebackers, seeing senior Xavier Stephens, sophomore Billy McEowen, or sophomore Tristen Vance listed is highly likely. All three are very capable of stepping up to the plate.

• Keep an eye out for junior transfer Byron Evans and greyshirt freshman Taylor Powell. Evans, an all-conference honoree from Glendale Community College registered 128 total tackles while with the Gauchos. Taylor was a two-time all-state player out of Salpointe High School in Tucson, finishing as the career tackles leader. 

 

DEFENSIVE LINE

• NAU's defensive line has seven different players returning with starting experience. This is huge for a line that has been plagued with injuries over the years. To get seniors Siupeli Anau and Lorenzo Melvin back from injury will be a huge difference maker for the line. Anau sat out all last season due to a shoulder injury, while Melvin appeared in seven games before being sidelined.

• Mix that with junior defensive tackle John Herrero, NAU's leading returner in starts with 10 from a year ago, and the Lumberjacks are primed to provide a solid defensive front. Herrero led the line last year with 34 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.

• Nine of the 23 players that earned a letter last season on defense are lineman. Add to that a pair of incoming players in junior transfer Junior Olie and freshman Carson Taylor, and the Lumberjack defensive line is deeply talented from top to bottom with a number of players capable of earning a start come September.

James Walton, the 2013 interior lineman of the year in West Virginia, transferred in from L.A. Valley Junior College, where he was an all-league honoree.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

• Northern Arizona will have a completely new look when it comes to kicking duties, as the Lumberjacks need to replace All-American Ryan Hawkins. The departure of Hawkins leaves kicking duties open for a youthful, but talented group of newcomers.

• Incoming freshmen Griffin Roehler and Luis Aguilar are two players capable of filling the void. Both Arizona products picked up numerous accolades during the high school careers. Roehler set the Division 4A record for PATs in a game (12) and a season (47), while Aguilar connected on every PAT during his career.

• NAU's top two kick returners from a year ago are back with Elijah Marks and Kendyl Taylor leading the way. Marks led the Lumberjacks with eight returns for 202 yards. He also collected four punt returns and ran them back for 47 yards. Taylor recorded six kick returns for a total of 124 yards for the Lumberjacks.

 
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