(STATS) - No FCS team has more greatly anticipated getting back a player who was injured last season than Northern Arizona, which lost starting quarterback Case Cookus after four games.
Cookus was the 2015 Jerry Rice Award winner as the FCS freshman of the year and had been off to an excellent start as a sophomore when he suffered a shoulder injury against Eastern Washington.
He's been back behind center during Northern Arizona's spring practice, which concludes Saturday with the Lumberjacks' annual intra-squad game at the Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff.
"My favorite part is being back around the guys," he said. "I really missed the camaraderie and being on the field with them rather than on the sidelines."
Without Cookus, Northern Arizona disappointed as the preseason favorite in the Big Sky, finishing 5-6 overall and 4-4 in conference games.
This season will be coach Jerome Souers' 20th year guiding the Lumberjacks. Cookus is working under a new offensive coordinator, Brian Sheppard, and he's teamed up again with All-America wide receiver Emmanuel Butler.
Cookus set the FCS freshman record with 37 touchdown passes as NAU finished 7-4 in 2015. Before his injury last season, he was among the national leaders in a number of passing categories. He was 80 of 119 for 1,173 yards and 13 touchdowns with one interception, and he had a 184.4 passing efficiency rating.
The Lumberjacks have prepped for their spring game with a pair of scrimmages. They will open the 2017 season on Sept. 2 with a matchup at Arizona.
"The players have worked really hard this spring season and I'm proud of the progress that we've made," Souers said. "It will be good to get out there and end the season on a high note in front of all of our fans."