It’s going to be a season of trial under fire for the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjack football team in 2019. After head coach Cody Carthel reported just prior to the Southland Conference Media Day that returning starting quarterback Jake Blumrick was lost for the season with a back injury, the coach has now reported that starting safety and All-American senior Alize Ward’s knee injury he suffered last week will force him to miss the 2019 campaign as well.
Ward went down while covering a receiver in a freak non-contact injury last week. After further examination it was determined that the San Diego, Calif., product will have to undergo one, possibly two, operations on the knee and miss the season. Carthel said Ward will begin rehabilitation as soon as possible and his goal is to return to the team. But the earliest comeback won’t be until next season.
Ward started all but one game at safety as a junior, finishing second on the team in total tackles (58) and leading the ’Jacks in solo stops (36) as he earned All-Southland Conference Second-Team honors. He also finished with 2.5 tackles for losses to go along with an interception, a forced fumble and a pair of pass breakups. Ward ranked 20th among all Southland tacklers with 6.4 per game.
Ward had three games in 2018 when he recorded 10 or more tackles.
“Alize was the very best football player on our team, and his loss is really a bruise for us,” said Carthel. “He was a bonafide NFL player and there were five or six teams looking at him and he had a draftable grade.
“He’s one of the best I’ve ever coached and it’s tough because it was just a freak non-contact injury. Without his loss I would say that our safety group would have been one of the strengths of the team.”
Another aspect of the team affected by the loss of Ward is the Lumberjacks’ kick return game. He was second among all SFA kickoff returners, tallying 254 yards on 11 runbacks, averaging. 23.1 yards per return, which ranked third in the Southland.
Carthel also reported that the team has two of its running backs injured, with one of them lost for the season, as well.
Junior running back Josh McGowan of McAllen has been battling a knee injury, but is expected to return this season. The 5-10, 222-lb. runner appeared in all 10 games a year ago, posting three starts, including two of the last three games. He led the ’Jacks in rushing yards (372) and carries (79) and rushing yards per game (37.2). He finished fourth on the squad in receiving yards (220), pulling in 14 passes. He was second on the team in both yards per rush (4.7) and yards per catch (15.7).
McGowan led SFA in all-purpose yards with 716, averaging 71.6 per game.
Freshman running back Jaquarion Turner, a 5-11, 202-lb. player from Garland, was also lost for the season, suffering from a knee injury in camp. Carthel said the team was hoping for big things from South Garland High School first-year player. He was a three-star recruit by 247Sports and ranked as the No. 171 running back in the nation. He had received interest from Big 12 conference member Texas Tech and other FCS institutions such as Missouri Sate and McNeese before choosing SFA.
Turner ran for 3,394 yards on 466 carries in his final two varsity years at South Garland, scoring 43 touchdowns. He tallied more than 1,600 yards and at least 20 touchdowns in each of his final two seasons of high school.
“We were really excited about Jaquarion and are disappointed that he’s going to miss the season,” Carthel noted. “He was one of the highly contested recruits among Southland schools. We still think he’s going to have a great career here, it’s just going to start later.”
SFA continues training camp in preparation for the 2019 season and will host its second scrimmage on Sunday from 6:30-9 p.m. at Homer Bryce Sadium. The ’Jacks open the regular season Saturday, Aug. 31, at Baylor.