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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Breaking down the NAU football competition

Brian+Valencia%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AThe+Arizona+Football+defense+runs+drills+during+practice+at+Arizona+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+Aug.+17%2C+2013.++
Brian Valencia
Brian Valencia/ Arizona Daily Wildcat The Arizona Football defense runs drills during practice at Arizona Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013.

One trip to NAU running back Zach Bauman’s Twitter page and you’ll easily spot “follow me, I’ll lead the way” in his bio section.

Today, the 2012 Walter Payton Award finalist will look to lead his Lumberjack team to its first victory over the Wildcats since 1932.

“[Bauman] runs hard,” said Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez. “He’s a tough physical player, and he reminds us of our [running backs] a little bit.”

Since coming to NAU as a freshman in 2010, Bauman has rushed for over 1,000 yards in all three seasons. The senior has a total of 3,676 yards, just 118 yards shy of the Lumberjacks’ all-time school record, which is held by Marcus King. Bauman has also been named to the preseason first team All-Big Sky conference once again.

Though the stats and preseason accolades are nice, Bauman is staying focused on beating Arizona and finishing the season strong.

“I’m honored to be preseason all-conference,” Bauman said in a phone interview, “but it won’t mean as much if I can’t help our team win or get better at the end of the season.”

Last season was one of NAU’s greatest in recent history. The Lumberjacks went 8-3 (6-2 Big Sky) and finished ranked No. 20 in the FCS Sports Network poll.

In week two they defeated UNLV on the road in NAU’s first win over a Football Bowl Subdivision/Division I-A opponent since 1987.

However, the Lumberjacks were kept from a conference championship and a trip to the FCS playoffs by a late season collapse in which they dropped their final two games of the season. Bauman, who only played half of the Lumberjacks’ final game because of an elbow injury, was left with a sour taste in his mouth.

“It was rough,” Bauman said, “but we learned a lot from the entire season. We just got to practice and play like we did when we were on the eight-game winning streak last year.”

The NAU game will make this the fifth consecutive season in which Arizona has hosted an FCS opponent, last year’s opponent being South Carolina State.

But Rodriguez knows not to expect an easy win.

“Last year we could have played poorly and beat South Carolina State,” Rodriguez said. “That’s not the case with NAU. They’re a good [FCS] team.”

The Lumberjacks, who are ranked No. 18 in the 2013 preseason FCS poll, return 18 starters on offense and defense from 2012.

Like the Wildcats, the Lumberjacks held a quarterback battle, but redshirt sophomore Kyren Poe won and will start Friday. He might have the most to offer Bauman because of his mobility.

“[Poe] is an athletic quarterback,” Bauman said. “He’s a couple years younger than me, but I’ve seen him grow up so much over the past few years.”

Poe and Bauman were teammates at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Ariz.

The senior said he could gain a lot from the quick-footed Poe. The Arizona defense will have to respect his ability as a passer but also a runner, which will force them to not just zone in on Bauman.

Bauman said he has high hopes for NAU and his own future. The aspiring NFL running back said he set a personal season goal of 2,000 rushing yards. Though he said he treats every game the same, he knows a win over Arizona could be the spark that leads the Lumberjacks to the playoffs.

“Beating [the] UA would be great because it would show that the hard work we have put in is paying off,” Bauman said. “We know we deserve to be out on the field with them, so we just got to stick to the game plan and believe in our talents. I know we’ve worked too hard not to.”

-Follow Luke Della @LukeDellaDW

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