FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – All-American Jake Hess was one of the most solid fullbacks that Northern Arizona has seen in recent years. He was a strong contributor on and off the field for the Lumberjacks, but has since graduated. This year's set of tight ends and fullbacks have a mixture of experience and new faces, as they will be an important piece of the Lumberjack offense.
"The biggest strength that both the tight ends and fullbacks have is that they are reliable," said tight ends and fullbacks coach Craig Knoth. "They love football and have the right personality. They're not afraid of contact and they enjoy giving it their all every day."
Northern Arizona's tight end corps has five players in the mix for playing time. Senior Drew Emanuel and junior R.J. Rickert are the only tight ends on the roster who garnered any starts last season. Rickert is a preseason all-conference pick and has been named to the College Football Performance Awards Tight End Watch List.
"Drew and R.J. are both experienced guys," said Knoth. "Drew played a lot over his first-three seasons. R.J. as a junior has played quite a bit the last two seasons. They are both veterans with different skill sets. Drew is a little bigger and more physical, whereas R.J. is more of a utility guy that can switch between the tight end and fullback positions."
Sophomore Beau Gardner has performed well during fall camp and will depth to the roster. "He has really made some strides," Knoth said. "Beau will be challenging both Drew and R.J. He's a guy that we need to have a good year."
"The amount of veterans we have returning has helped minimize the learning curve," said Emanuel. "One of our goals this season is to be the hardest working unit on the field and to not have any mental mistakes."
When it comes to the fullback position, the battle will be between sophomore Nick Butier and redshirt freshman Jake Thomas. Butier saw limited playing time last season, as he was a backup to Hess. However, both fullbacks will have a chance to compete on special teams, as well.
Rickert is excited about what the two groups bring to the table this season. "We lost our leader in Jake (Hess), but the biggest difference is that we all know our roles," said Rickert. "We are two-deep at each position and have two new fullbacks that are ready to step up and play."
The experience of the returners, mixed with solid play by the newcomers, should make for a good year for the tight ends and fullbacks.
Position Preview Schedule
Aug. 14 – Offensive Line
Aug.15 – Tight Ends and Fullbacks
Aug. 16 – Wide Receivers
Aug. 17 – Running Backs
Aug. 19 – Quarterbacks
Aug. 20 – Linebackers
Aug. 21 – Defensive Line
Aug. 22 – Secondary
Aug. 23 - Special Teams