FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – The Northern Arizona defense was instrumental in the Lumberjacks eight-game win streak that led to an overall record of 8-3 in 2012. The defense registered 29 sacks, including a massive seven sacks in the 14-point win over UC Davis on Homecoming. One of the highlights for the Lumberjack defensive line is that it returns eight guys that garnered at least one start in 2012.
"There are a lot of guys that have played football for us," said defensive line coach Travis Baker. "Players understand our system and what's expected out of them. Now they just have to go out and perform."
NAU is known around the Big Sky for its solid defense as it finished second in the league in scoring defense at 23.6 points per game. NAU also finished ranked fifth in the league and 27th in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in sacks.
Although NAU lost Jarret Bilbrey, who led the Lumberjacks in sacks last season with seven for a loss of 41 yards, it returns CFPA Defensive Lineman Watch List honoree Tim Wilkinson. The all-conference lineman from Las Vegas, Nev. tallied 6.5 sacks for a loss of 26 yards in 2012. He returns to lead a group of seven seniors that look to continue the trend of being a defense that many opponents would rather not go against.
"This is Tim's fourth year in the program," Baker said. "The guys respect him for what he's done. He's an all-conference player and we expect big things out of him this year. Tim definitely serves as a leader for us."
In addition to Wilkinson, the seniors include defensive ends George Dunlap, Steven Garcia and Quentin Kantaris. The defensive tackles are Chima Ike, Justin Jungblut and Marc Thompson. The seniors combined for 32 starts last season with Wilkinson leading the way with 10. Thompson was an honorable mention honoree last season after tallying 29 tackles and ranking third on the team in sacks with 5.5, while Kantaris made the top defensive records chart for NAU after recording 9.0 tackles for loss on the season.
"Our versatility is our strength," said Baker. "We have a lot of guys with different strengths and weaknesses that have all played. We're able to draw in those different strengths and put them in the best situations to make them successful."
"They (defensive linemen) should be the toughest group of football players on the field when we talk about toughness and work ethic," said Baker. "On the field it starts with stopping the run. The guys know that they have to earn the right to rush the passer. We want to be relentless with our pass rush and hit and harass the quarterback as many times as we can."
Coach Baker has a large group of upperclassmen that will lead by example as they embark on their mission to be the best in the Big Sky and the FCS. For several years the NAU defense has held high standards for their unit and 2013 is no different.
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