Running back Zach Bauman wasn’t recruited by Arizona or Arizona State despite starring for one of the Grand Canyon State’s premier high school football teams, Chandler Hamilton.
Bauman instead went to FCS Northern Arizona, where he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark all four years of his career. By the time he ended his career as a Lumberjack concluded with a loss to South Dakota State in the 2013 NCAA Playoffs, Bauman had scored 46 rushing touchdowns, five receiving touchdowns and rushed for 5,132 yards.
Now, Bauman has an opportunity to land with the highest level team in his home state as a member of the Arizona Cardinals preseason roster.
Bauman made his mark Saturday night, scoring a most unusual touchdown in the final minutes of the Cardinals’ preseason tilt against the Minnesota Vikings.
— NAU Athletics (@NAUAthletics) August 17, 2014
Scratching out a place on the Cardinals’ running back depth chart in the regular season won’t be easy. Arizona added former Georgia Tech star and Pittsburgh Steeler Jonathan Dwyer in the offseason to join a backfield featuring two products of power-conference elites: promising second-year back Stepfan Taylor (Stanford) and potential breakout star Andre Ellington (Clemson).
But the unexpected retirement of Rashard Mendenhall this offseason does leave a spot that Zach Bauman can fill for his hometown team.
Bauman’s battle for a spot on the regular season roster is the heart and soul of this time of year. At every roster training camp, there is a Zach Bauman; someone overlooked at some point in his career, whether in the recruiting process or by NFL scouts.
Routinely, one of these players emerges to not only make a roster, but flourish, whether it’s Marques Colston, Chris Ivory, Danny Woodhead.
The star power and pageantry of the regular season is lacking from the NFL preseason, no question. The dreams of the overlooked and underrated is more compelling as drama–and indeed, such players are central to the popularity of HBO’s reality series Hard Knocks.
It’s rather fitting the most discussed part of the preseason is a reality show, because there’s a certain quality to these players auditioning for the pros that’s reminiscent of a program like The Voice. Both are shaped by those with big dreams, seeking their opportunity to shine in a tough business.
Across America in college fall camps nationwide, the next generation of Zach Baumans and Marques Colstons are chasing their dream. Perhaps they’re NFL-caliber talents missed in collegiate recruiting, who went the FCS or Div. II route.
Others might be former reverse battling for a spot in the starting rotation.
Such stories are meaningful because they exemplify values an idealist loves about sports. Zach Bauman may not have been recruited to play for Arizona or Arizona State, but it helped motivate him. There’s something poetic about him now having the opportunity to play for Arizona in the NFL.
His and other stories like it are about staying hungry and continuing to work against the odds. It’s the perfect drama to kick-off a new football season, and gives us our first underdogs of the year worth cheering on.