Victories now available at NAU Walkup Skydome
What a difference a year makes.
In previous years, the student fan base and student media have been highly critical of head coach Jerome Souers and the football team as a whole. There were cries to terminate Souers and bring in a coach who would improve the team’s attitude, total more wins and generate some excitement and pride to Northern Arizona University (NAU) football.
There was a sense of complacency within the football team. They were okay playing closely with other teams, but not beating them. There were the second-half drop-offs in which the team would start strong, but could not close games, sometimes giving up a sizable lead to end the game with a loss. This caused an already unenthusiastic student fan base to lose nearly all interest in the football team, resulting in little support on game days.
Again, what a difference a year makes.
The football team began the season in Tempe against PAC-12 school ASU. Going into the game, they were saying all the right things — as expected — except there was something different about how they were talking. The Jacks were speaking with conviction, saying they were going to beat the Sun Devils, instead of speculating on whether they could beat them. They lost 63–6, as most expected, it seemed this season would be no different.
At the beginning of the year, Souers said this group of players is unlike any other he has coached at NAU. While this sounded like generic coach speak, maybe Souers knew something no one outside of the football program knew.
Since the beating in the desert, this team has achieved a pair of things unaccomplished in several years. The first is being ranked in the top-25 of two polls. The Jacks are currently No. 18 in the Sports Network poll and No. 21 in the coaches’ poll; the highest NAU has been since the 2008 season. The second is the Jacks are on a four-game win-streak. The previous time the Lumberjacks put together four wins in a row was in 2009. During the 2008 season, NAU won six straight games.
With the 2–0 start in Big Sky play, including the upset at Montana — arguably NAU’s most difficult match-up this season — the Jacks have a very real possibility of finishing the season undefeated in conference. The Montana victory actually overshadowed NAU’s first Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) win in 25 years when the team edged the University of Nevada, Las Vegas 17-14.
Going back to what Souers said, the team is playing the same level of football on both sides of the ball. The offense is averaging 31.4 points per game and 367.2 yards per game to go along with an 85 percent red-zone efficiency. On the other side of the ball, the defense has grabbed six interceptions, five in Big Sky play, and tallied 412 tackles through five games.
There is a noticeable difference in the football team. When you talk to them around campus about the previous week’s game, they have a certain amount of pride in their voices. This past year’s woes have not reared their ugly heads so far this season.
The Jacks have gone 18 quarters without having a turnover. This is largely due to senior quarterback Cary Grossart becoming more comfortable in the lead role and having the team back him. With the added confidence and camaraderie, NAU has been playing complete games on both sides of the ball and finishing games stronger than in recent memory.
To top that all off, junior running back Zach Bauman began the season on the Walter Payton watch list and has only improved his stock so far.
With all of these factors coming into play, the campus needs to take notice. In previous years, students would show up to the game and leave at halftime once they lost interest. Now, the second half of the games have become worth waiting for. Sure, Bauman might have another scoring run on the first play of the game, but look to the upset in Montana as a prime example. NAU got on the board first, but let Montana score 24 unanswered points before the Jacks scored again. Despite initial setbacks, they rallied for 27 unanswered points of their own to ice the game.
The team has done all it can to give back to the fans, even handing out flyers a few days before a game in an effort to fill up the Skydome — something that, as far as we are aware of, has not been done in recent years. While attendance seems solid this year, the Fort Lewis and Family Weekend games in 2011 produced about 700 more fans than this years’ match-up.
The football team is doing all the right things this season to be the team the students always wanted. Now the students have to show their support.
Editor’s note: Sports Editor Travis Guy and Assistant Sports Editor Cody Bashore wrote this editorial on behalf of the staff.