Meet the Lumberjacks

Northern Arizona Coach Jerome Souers said playing the Rebels this weekend will be like "running in the Indianapolis 500 with one set of tires," yet NAU has defeated a Top 25 team this year. Truthful or rope-a-dope? Read about it inside.

Northern Arizona, Ole Miss' opponent this week, has a 5-3 overall record with a 4-2 Big Sky Conference worksheet.

By all accounts, they are a solid, well-coached team.

But to hear NAU Coach Jerome Souers tell it, his Lumberjacks are somewhat over-matched when taking on an opponent from the SEC.

"We have to develop our players. We get a lot of good kids and they have a lot of heart, but we don't get many three-star players or above. We are three or four inches and 30-40 pounds per man less than Ole Miss," said Souers. "Our third and fourth-year kids are developed and do a good job, but the second and third-team players are not on the level of the backups in the SEC or at Ole Miss.

"We are like trying to run the Indy 500 with one set of tires. We have to try to win some matchups and do the best we can."

Souers chuckled when questioned about what he sees on film with the Rebels.

"We've been trying to figure out what we could do all morning against the kind of speed and size we are about to see. We don't play anybody like them on our schedule," he said. "We don't have anyone on campus who can simulate them in trying to get ready for what we will face.

"We will have to do a lot of adapting on the run and try to find some places where we can attack, but I don't see any right now."

Souers said it's hard to answer the "what impresses you about Ole Miss?" question.

"It would be a shorter answer if I told you what doesn't impress me," he laughed. "They are impressive. When you look at the size and the speed they have, it's hard to relate to. The speed of the game, the multiplicity of the way they use their personnel. Your quarterback is good enough as it is, then you put that #22 back there to run the ball and there's enough going on back to there to confuse anyone, let alone deal with the speed and athleticism that is coming at you.

"I like the way they are coached. They play hard, they are very creative with their offensive and defensive packages and they are explosive. Anyone who loves the game loves to see a team like Ole Miss."

Souers swears he's not pulling a rope-a-dope on the Ole Miss media.

"No, we are about to get a whole different perspective on football," he continued. "We have been managing well against the level of competition we have faced most of the year, but this is a different animal.

"A lot of schools are facing financial difficulties in the BSC, so we need a game like this for a lot of reasons. It is what it is. We have great kids, we have coaches who work their tails off and all we can do is play the best we can. That will be our intention."

Souers does have one "ace" up his sleeve - his quarterback, Michael Herrick, is a transfer from Ole Miss.

"Michael has played very well for us and he is not approaching this game any differently than any of them," Souers added. "He's level-headed and doesn't seem fazed about going back to Ole Miss.

"He's been very accurate for us, he fits the spread scheme we run, his rapport with his wide receivers is good, he has the ability to direct and manage the offense, and he can identify different coverages. Michael has been great for us."

Herrick is completing 68.8% of his passes, connecting on 196-285 with just 5 interceptions and 18 touchdowns. He's also averaging 309.6 yards per game in the air.

Against Montana, which was a 41-34 overtime loss, Herrick was 36-49 for 445 yards and four TDs.

For his part, Herrick is looking forward to coming back to Ole Miss.

"It will be fun to see some guys I played with and see the area again, but I am approaching the game the way I do every other game," Herrick noted. "There is a little extra emotion, but I just want to have fun.

"My teammates and my coaches have given me an opportunity to play and show what I've got. It's been a fun year so far."

Herrick transferred out for obvious reasons.

"Ole Miss gave me a chance to play in an SEC program for a while. I have no bad feelings at all for Ole Miss," he said. "When the coaching change was made, I knew I wasn't going to be the guy, so I started looking. Jevan (Snead) was their guy. Everyone knew it. That's just how life is sometimes, so I moved on."

He did not choose Northern Arizona just because they run a spread, which is similar to what he ran in high school, but it was on his mind.

"I liked a lot of the plays they ran when I went on my visit here, but the big thing was that I was going to get a chance to play and that's all I ever wanted," he noted. "The system was not the overriding factor, but it helps."

Michael knows what to expect when the Lumberjacks come to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

"They are very athletic and speed is a big thing in trying to match up with them," he closed. "We will have to be smart and protect the football, number one.

"We respect Ole Miss and the big time football, but we can't be intimidated or afraid. We will need some breaks, but we are going to play our game and hope for the best."

Herrick is now a 200-pounder and is an experienced college QB.

"I'm stronger and smarter and now I have experience," he closed. "I now understand there is a big difference between college and high school.

"The things I learned at Ole Miss have helped me out here in terms of dealing with complex defenses. I understand defenses and a lot of that can be attributed to what I was first exposed to at Ole Miss."

No doubt the Lumberjacks have a tough task ahead of them against the Rebels Saturday night.

But it sounds as if they wouldn't have it any other way.

Even if they can't "change their tires."

OM Spirit Top Stories