'Jacks on cusp of first conference title since '03

'Jacks on cusp of first conference title since '03

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) Even in a town with limited sports options, Northern Arizona sometimes suffers from the same ho-hum support as so many other teams in Arizona, usually gaining attention only when it wins.

The Lumberjacks are on the verge of changing that behind a star running back, a gifted quarterback, the program's longest winning streak in 54 years and the possibility of a conference title.

The attitude won't change overnight, but the `Jacks are chipping away.

``It's going to take time; it's going to have to be consistent over time,'' senior quarterback Cary Grossart said. ``It's new, but I think people have started to notice toward the end of the season as we started winning - winning always helps.''

Northern Arizona (8-2, 6-1 Big Sky) wasn't supposed to be in this position, at least according to the coaches in the Big Sky Conference. The Lumberjacks haven't won more than six games the previous eight seasons and the coaches saw no reason to think it would be any different in 2012, picking them to finish seventh in the conference.

Northern Arizona coach Jerome Souers knew better.

In his 15th season in Flagstaff, Souers saw the progress the Lumberjacks made last season and during the offseason. He had Grossart and dynamic running back Zach Bauman coming back, along with plenty of returning players with experience.

Put that all together and Souers figured the dire predictions were off the mark.

``It's been coming together the last couple of years,'' Souers said. ``Last year was close from the standpoint of our quality of play. We were 4-7, we lost a bunch of games that were close at the end and in the offseason matured and developed and understood the things we need to do to finish out a game.''

Northern Arizona has been doing just that all season.

Well, after a difficult start.

Confident that the days of mediocrity were behind them, the Lumberjacks went into the season expecting a big turnaround.

Instead, they hit a speed bump out of the gate against Arizona State, losing Grossart and Bauman to injuries in the first half of a season-opening 63-6 loss to the bigger, faster Sun Devils.

The Lumberjacks dusted themselves off quickly, picking up one of the biggest wins in program history by rallying for a 14-point halftime deficit to knock off UNLV 17-14 the next week, ending a 25-game losing streak to FBS schools.

``The guys have been working hard for three years and we've been recruiting toward a higher end for a while now, but getting everyone to believe it takes reinforcement that you're making progress,'' Souers said. ``A win like that is affirmation that we are making progress, we were exceeding some of the norms of where we had been.''

The Lumberjacks weren't done.

Two weeks after taking down the Rebels, Northern Arizona went up to Montana and snatched a 41-31 victory, ending a 14-game losing streak to the Grizzlies.

Montana had become a nemesis for the Lumberjacks and Souers, a former assistant in Missoula, and the satisfaction of that win was right up there with knocking off UNLV.

``To see coach Souers, to see the respect he got from the people in Missoula and Montana, that made me be proud to be a part of NAU,'' Grossart said. ``I was so excited for him and for our team to do something that hadn't been done in a long time was special and will last a long time.''

Those two program-defining wins propelled Northern Arizona into an eight-game winning streak, the program's longest run since winning 11 in a row in 1958.

Bauman and Grossart have led the way.

Lightly recruited out of Arizona powerhouse Chandler Hamilton High School, Bauman has raced up NAU's career rushing chart with 1,138 yards and eight touchdowns this season. A junior, he's second in school history with 3,632 yards, 162 behind Marcus King's school record.

An undersized quarterback who came out a spread system in high school, Grossart has developed into a steady leader as a senior. Leading an offense that averages over 410 yards per game, he's thrown for 1,723 yards and 14 touchdowns.

Behind those two stars and a we-belong-here attitude, the Lumberjacks are on the cusp of their first conference title since 2003.

Northern Arizona, No. 15 in the latest FCS coaches poll, slipped up on its chance to earn the title outright by losing a triple-overtime shootout to Southern Utah last weekend, but can earn at least a share by beating Cal Poly at home on Saturday.

Accomplish that and the Lumberjacks will move on to the FCS playoffs, where they can add to their growing following in Flagstaff.

``We just decided in the offseason that 6-5, 4-7 every year wasn't good enough and we put in the work to make sure it didn't happen again,'' Bauman said. ``It's great to shock everybody.''

Well, not everyone. The Lumberjacks believed all along that they were capable of playing like this.

Now, the community around them is starting to believe, too, even if it is a little at a time.

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Barry Trotz's departure reminiscent of Joe Gibbs' resignation in 1993

Associated Press

Barry Trotz's departure reminiscent of Joe Gibbs' resignation in 1993

The sudden resignation of Barry Trotz as the coach of the Stanley Cup champion Capitals is the most stunning Washington coaching departure since Joe Gibbs retired from the Redskins about 13 months after the team won its third Super Bowl in a 10-year span. 

In the years leading up to Gibbs’ departure, there were some rumblings that he might leave. As early as 1986, John Madden said that Gibbs was a candidate to burn out of the profession early. During the 1989 season, Gibbs said that he was contemplating retirement, but he retracted his words the next day. In 1990, columnist and TV pregame panelist Will McDonough reported that Gibbs would retire after the season. Retirement rumors popped up again in early 1992, just two days before Super Bowl XXVI. Again, Gibbs denied them. The Redskins easily beat the Bills to claim their third championship in 10 years and there was no apparent reason why such a successful coach would think about leaving. 

Redskins fans had become so used to hearing the Gibbs retirement reports that many just started to tune them out. So on the morning of March 5, 1993, when reports of Gibbs’ resignation as coach started to circulate, many were in a state of denial.

That turned out to be wishful thinking. The fans were given a hard jolt of reality when the team announced a noon press conference. 

There the coach was on TV, as promised, confirming the news. He said it was a family decision. 

“Every year, we get away and talk about it,” Gibbs said. “We always reach the same conclusion. This year, it was different. The boys didn’t encourage me one way or another, but they understood when I told them what I was thinking. I think Pat’s happier than anyone. This isn’t an easy lifestyle for a coach’s wife. The coach is the guy who stands up and hears everyone tell him how great he is. The wife is the one waiting at home alone while the coach is spending every night at the office. 

“I wanted more time with my family. I wanted more time with my sons. I look at this as a window of opportunity with them and I couldn’t let it pass.” 

Although he has been diagnosed with a condition that has caused some pain and some difficulty in sleeping, Gibbs said that health was not a factor in his decision. 

Richie Petitbon, the team’s longtime defensive coordinator, was named the team’s new head coach. It had to be one of the shortest job interviews ever. 

“I get a call from Mr. Cooke who tells me Joe has retired and that he wants me to coach the Redskins,” Petitbon said. “After I picked myself up off the floor, I said yes.” 

After hearing the news, most Redskins fans had to pick themselves up as well.  

Petitbon lasted only one season as the head coach and the other eight head coaches who followed, including Gibbs himself in a four-year second stint, have been unable to get the Redskins back to the Super Bowl. Coincidentally, the Caps’ head coaching job is widely expected to go to Todd Reirden, who was Trotz’s top assistant just as Pettitbon was Gibbs’. 

Washington fans hope that the Caps have better fortune with Trotz’s successors. 

More Redskins

- 53-man roster: Roster projection--Offense
- 53-man roster: Best players 25 or younger

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler


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Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Need to Know: Post-minicamp Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, June 19, 37 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Redskins 53-man roster projection—Defense 

It may still be early to project the roster, but things are coming into focus after the round of practices in helmets and shorts. Here is my look at who I think will make it on defense; the offense was posted yesterday.

Defensive line (7)
Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, Matt Ioannidis, Anthony Lanier, Stacy McGee, Tim Settle, Ziggy Hood

I don’t think that McGee’s groin injury will be an issue, but it seemed that Jay Gruden was very tight-lipped about the whole thing, so we will have to wait until training camp starts. This is one more than they normally carry here and Hood’s presence on the roster could be in danger if injuries force the team to carry more players at another position. 

Outside linebacker (4)
Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith, Ryan Anderson, Pernell McPhee

Anderson is certain to make the roster, but he was mostly invisible during the offseason practices that were open to the media. The spotlight will be on last year’s second-round pick in training camp. After a zero-sack rookie season, Anderson will be under pressure to produce this season. 

Inside linebacker (5)
Zach Brown, Mason Foster, Zach Vigil, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaun Dion Hamilton

The player I have on the wrong side of the bubble here is Martrell Spaight. If he does work his way on, the spot most in jeopardy is Vigil’s. Harvey-Clemons got a lot of reps with the first team in OTAs and the team thinks he can help in nickel situations and perhaps more. And Gruden called Hamilton a potential future starter. So the two younger players seem safe, leaving Vigil vulnerable.

Cornerback (6)
Josh Norman, Quinton Dunbar, Fabian Moreau, Orlando Scandrick, Josh Holsey, Greg Stroman

As is the case with the running backs that I looked at yesterday, this group seems to be pretty well set. It’s not that it’s an exceptionally strong group, but there isn’t a lot of real competition. Behind these six are three undrafted free agents, and while Danny Johnson, Kenny Ladler, and Ranthony Texada all have had flashes in the offseason practices, they are extreme long shots to make the roster at this point. 

Safety (4)
D.J. Swearinger, Montae Nicholson, Deshazor Everett, Troy Apke

If there are concerns about Nicholson’s health—to be clear, as of now there are none—Fish Smithson could make it as a fifth safety. 

Specialists (3)
K Dustin Hopkins, P Tress Way, LS Nick Sundberg

It looks like the Redskins will have the same trio of specialists for the fourth straight year. I will look it up at some point but for now, I’ll say that it’s been a while since they had such stability here. 

Defensive players: 26
Rookies (5): 
Payne, Settle, Hamilton, Stroman, Apke
New to the Redskins in 2018 (7): Rookies plus McPhee, Scandrick
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster (13): Rookies plus new players plus Vigil (released in the final cut, re-signed later in the season). 

On the 53-man roster:

24 offense, 26 defense, 3 specialists
Rookies: 8
New to the Redskins in 2017: 12
Not on 2017 Week 1 roster: 16

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 37
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 51
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 74

The Redskins last played a game 170 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 82 days. 

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