Mobile, Ala. • Southern Utah begins life without Brad Sorensen on Thursday night, when the Thunderbirds open their season at South Alabama.
SUU will play without Sorensen, its record-setting quarterback, for the first time since 2009. A three-year starter, he threw for 9,445 yards and 61 touchdowns in his collegiate career before being taken in the seventh round of the NFL Draft by San Diego. Enter Aaron Cantu.
A transfer from East Los Angeles College, Cantu replaces Sorensen as the Thunderbirds' starting quarterback.
Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing 215 pounds, Cantu is smaller than Sorensen, but he is more mobile. He can be effective from the pocket or in the open field.
"Different skill-set," Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb said. "Brad had tremendous confidence in his arm. He played like a big man. He was not afraid to stand in and take a hit waiting for that split-second when he could rifle the ball in."
On the other hand, Cantu "doesn't have a cannon for an arm. He wants to make the right read and he wants to get rid of the ball. He's not into taking hits.
"I don't think we'll have as many late-in-the-play completions as we did when Brad was here. But we'll have fewer sacks than we did a year ago, too."
Redshirt freshman Christian Taele and true freshmen Raysean Martin and Toa Afatasi headline the rebuilt group of running backs who will also be a key to SUU's success on offense.
"They are inexperienced, but we're very excited about them," Lamb said. "They can do a lot of different things. They give us a lot of versatility. We hope they can have some success early and gain a little confidence."
South Alabama, 2-11 last season, returns seven starters on offense including senior quarterback Ross Metheney.
Southern Utah at South Alabama
At Ladd-Peebles Stadium
Kickoff: 5:30 p.m. MDT
Records: SUU 0-0, South Alabama 0-0
Series: First game
About the Thunderbirds: They will play a 12-game schedule this season for the first time in school history. ... They were 5-6 last season, including 4-4 in the Big Sky Conference and 3-3 on the road. ... They will open the season on the road eighth time in the last 10 years.
About the Jaguars: This program was started from scratch in 2009. ... This is their first year of full Football Championship Subdivision membership. ... They play in the Sun Belt Conference. ... They were 2-11 last year with wins over Nicholls State (9-3) and Florida Atlantic (37-34 in overtime).