Cedar City • Coming out of spring practice, junior college transfer Aaron Cantu owned the job as Southern Utah’s No. 1 quarterback.
Now he tries to keep it.
The Thunderbirds open preseason practice Monday, when Cantu hopes to solidify his position as the replacement for the record-setting Brad Sorensen.
In SUU’s annual Red-White scrimmage in April, Cantu completed 13 of 16 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns.
After the impressive performance, coach Ed Lamb said Cantu had “a leg up” on the other candidates hoping to replace Sorensen, a three-year starter who was selected by San Diego in the seventh-round of the NFL draft.
Southern Utah finished 5-6 last season, including 4-4 during its first year in the Big Sky Conference. The Thunderbirds open training camp with helmet-only drills until Thursday, when limited contact starts. The first practice in full pads is Saturday.
“I’m anxious to find out the character of this team,” Lamb said. “That’s the biggest question mark going forward.”
On offense, Lamb can count on lineman Gavin Farr and receiver Fatu Moala as his foundation players.
Farr, a senior from Northridge High School, is a three-time all-conference selection. Moala, a senior from Kearns, led Southern Utah with receptions (65) and receiving yards (810) last season.
Defensively, end James Cowser and linebackers Zak Browning and Chad Hansen lead the Thunderbirds.
Cowser, who is from Davis High, was a freshman All-American last season. Browning, who is from Vancouver, Wash., is also a returning freshman All-American. He averaged 11.5 tackles in 2012.
Hansen, a senior from Murrieta, Calif., returns after an injury-plagued season. Two years ago, he led the Thunderbirds with 104 tackles.
A difficult schedule awaits.
SUU plays three of its first four games on the road, including the opener at South Alabama and a Sept. 14 journey to Washington State.
In the Big Sky, the Thunderbirds play two of last season’s tri-champions — Eastern Washington and Montana State — on the road. They also open conference play at Northern Colorado on Sept. 28.
Aug. 29 • at S. Alabama
Sept. 7 • vs. Fort Lewis
Sept. 14 • at Washington State
Sept. 21 • at Sacramento State
Sept. 28 • at Northern Colorado
Oct. 5 • vs. UC Davis
Oct. 12 • vs. Portland State
Oct. 19 • at Eastern Washington
Oct. 26 • vs. Idaho State
Nov. 9 • at Weber State
Nov. 16 • at Montana St.
Nov. 23 • vs. No. Arizona