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August 21, 2013
Editor's note: Since Arizona has now started to game plan for Northern Arizona, GOAZCATS.com staff writer Kyle Kensing gives you a first look at the Lumberjacks.
Among those players who will soon enough lace their cleats for the first time in 2013 is a Grand Canyon State prep product who has found collegiate success. He's an All-America running back and a candidate for his division's most prestigious individual honor.
Bauman is beginning his fourth and final year as the engine of the Lumberjack offense. His role mirrors that of Carey for Arizona. Bauman is a Football Championship Subdivision preseason All-American and on the watch list for the Walter Payton Award.
He will become the program's all-time leading rusher in 2013. Trailing Marcus King by just 118, he could set the record on Aug. 30 at UA.
Making history in Arizona Stadium could prove especially gratifying.
"Arizona's one of the schools that overlooked me during [the recruiting process]," Bauman said.
Where UA scored on the local recruiting trail with Canyon del Oro prospect Carey, scouts missed on Bauman.
His flight below the recruiting radar is rather surprising. He played for Arizona Interscholastic Association powerhouse Chandler Hamilton, where in 2009 he led the undefeated state champion Huskies with nearly 1,200 yards and 25 touchdowns. Yet, Air Force was the only Bowl Subdivision program to formally offer Bauman a scholarship.
All that 120 FBS programs lost on with Bauman was one of the most consistent and electric ball carriers at any level over the last three seasons, as well a dark horse NFL draft prospect come next spring. His ability to both locate and hit holes on the rush, as well as catch passes out of the backfield, could make him a versatile change-of-pace back at the professional level.
"Playing in the NFL is something I've always dreamed about," he said, but added that a strong senior season both individually and for the Lumberjacks is his current focus.
What-ifs haunt the returning Jacks. NAU matched the eight-win mark both UA and Arizona State reached, and did so in a torrid win streak that spanned much of the season.
Consecutive losses to close out 2012 kept NAU out of the FCS playoffs, but fueled returning players in a long offseason.
"We've set high expectations: a Big Sky championship, a national championship...everything [in practice] is about pushing toward that," Bauman said.
Though it would be easy to dismiss UA as just another game on the schedule, Bauman acknowledged that beating the Wildcats would have profound impact for both the NAU football program, as well as the university.
"I don't even know the last time we beat Arizona," he said.
The answer is Oct. 29, 1932. Then known as the Arizona State Teacher's College, the college football team from Flagstaff outlasted UA, 7-6, in the only game played in Phoenix. It's also the only time the Lumberjacks have ever bested their counterparts from Tucson.
The teams have met 10 times since, including six contests since 2002.
Most of the current corps of Lumberjacks can already stake claim to a win against the FBS. NAU beat UNLV 17-14 last September. Coincidentally, UA draws the Rebels in Week 2 this season.
But beyond just UA's FBS status, or its membership in a Bowl Championship Series conference, the personal connections Bauman and other Jacks have to the Wildcat program make Week 1 a particularly meaningful opportunity.
There are 47 in-state products on the NAU roster, all of whom would love to plant their program's flag in Tucson.
"Beating [UA] would prove that we're not just the little team in Flagstaff behind Arizona and Arizona State," All-Big Sky Conference cornerback and Phoenix Desert Vista alum Anders Battle said.
Bauman will go head-to-head against a UA defense featuring a few local talents with whom he has ties, including fellow Hamilton product and defensive tackle Tevin Hood.
"[Linebacker] Marquis Flowers and I know each other," Bauman said. "We talk on Twitter sometimes."
Friendly with his UA opponents or not, Bauman will do all he can to beat them Week 1, and add another milestone to his unlikely legacy.