ERIC NEWMAN Solar Sports Editor
Northern Arizona junior Maddie Shafer — a local player hailing from nearby Flagstaff High School — is the Lumberjacks football team’s leading returner in points (12), with four goals and four assists in 2021.
Now in her third season with the Lumberjacks, the midfielder hopes to continue producing on the pitch and lead the team’s continued growth.
After graduating from Flagstaff, she progressed rapidly as a player and was a regular contributor and starter last year. She said the team had changed drastically over the past few seasons and she hoped the same would happen.
“It’s really good to see how the program has grown, how much our style of football has changed. I think we’re headed in the right direction, so it’s cool to witness,” Shafer said.
Coach Kylie Louw said the Lumberjacks are changing their style of play to one that relies more on quick, smart decisions and passes from forwards and midfielders, rather than relying so much on courage and team athletics.
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Shafer, in a key spot in midfield, could be one of the catalysts on the ball to find early success with the new identity.
“Maddie is, on paper, one of the most skilled in the team. She loves the ball, she’s always there juggling, doing her thing. So from that point of view you can count on her to handle the ball. Now that we’re evolving in the way we play, I think Maddie will be able to step into her role from that perspective where she’s able to shake things up and be creative,” Louw said.
She’s already proven herself as a player in her two seasons, but Shafer says her next goal – aside from obviously improving on the pitch – is to take on some of the responsibilities that Louw thinks she can handle.
It’s also about being more vocal and bringing the many new players in with it and putting them in positions to succeed.
“It’s cool to be an upper class student this year. That’s one thing I want to do – be a leader and do whatever I can like that,” Shafer said.
Leading the team to a successful season and competing for the Big Sky Conference title would be more than just a turning point for the team. It would also provide a spark to the local football community.
Shafer is one of three Flagstaff High School graduates on the team along with defenseman Taylor Hazlett and forward Morgan Caslin.
Louw emphasized retaining local talent, believing the trio of Flagstaff High School graduates are some of the best players to come out of school.
The locals are a source of pride for the program, and Shafer hopes he can use that as motivation to keep winning.
“Playing for my hometown has always been a dream of mine, and to be in front of my family, all of my friends here, it’s truly an honor,” Shafer said.
If things go according to plan for the Lumberjacks, who are slated to open the regular season on Thursday, Aug. 18, Shafer could be one of several players to take charge of the team.
With numerous transfers and talented newcomers – Louw said there were 20 players who took the field and progressed in a scrimmage against the Arizona Wildcats on Sunday – things could look up for the Lumberjacks.
“I think this could be a turning point for the program. I think we have the opportunity to do something that we haven’t done here at NAU in a long time,” Shafer said.