Northern Arizona head coach Jerome Souers is a big in-state recruiter. He believes that there's no need to go too far for talent when there's a plethora of it right here in the Grand Canyon State. In college, recruitment is a year-round job, whether it's on site at the high schools or dissecting player film. For the Lumberjacks, their goal every year is to add as much talent from Arizona as possible.
Once again, NAU boasts a roster of over 45 in-state products. To be exact, the Lumberjacks have 56 players on its roster from Arizona – unofficially the most NAU has had in the past 10 years. Souers has been known to use the hashtag #StayInState to emphasize how much he backs players who choose to stay in state.
"Arizona's high school talent improves day-by-day, I think it is important to get as many kids to stay in state as possible," said Souers. "The hashtag #StayInState fits NAU very well because 50 percent of our roster is from the state of Arizona and I'm pleased to promote that fact."
To point out how well NAU did in recruiting this past season, the Lumberjacks came away with three players – Elijah Marks, Bryant O'Georgia and Emmanuel Butler - ranked in the top 30 in the state of Arizona by AZHSFootball.com.
One of the greatest players in NAU history was running back Zach Bauman. He played for the Lumberjacks from 2010 to 2013. Bauman was a highly talented player that was overlooked by some of the big schools, and for NAU that was a blessing. Bauman went on to become the best four-year running back in NAU history. The Chandler native set multiple school records including career rushing yards, career carries, career all-purpose yards, and career points scored. The All-American became the first running back in school history and ninth player in FCS history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons. To put an exclamation point on Bauman's success, he eclipsed the 4,000 and 5,000 career rushing yards marks - the only player in NAU history to accomplish this feat.
"For me, playing my college career in Arizona wasn't my plan," said Bauman. "I had wanted to leave the state. Looking back I think it was always the best situation for me, because it's easier for my family to come watch me play."
As talented as Bauman was in high school and college, he had always known that his dream was to play in the NFL. If you watched Bauman play, even once, you too would see that he was a special kind of player. When it came time for the 2014 NFL Draft, Bauman had supporters not only in Arizona, but all around the Big Sky. Everyone seemed to be rooting for "The Franchise."
"It was mixed emotions (on draft day)," said Bauman. "You want to hear your name called. When it isn't called but you realize that you still have the opportunity to make an NFL roster your day turns around. I think once I'm able to make the final roster, that's really when my dream comes true."
On the other end of the phone was the Arizona Cardinals inviting Bauman to rookie camp. Approximately three months later, Bauman is a member of the Arizona Cardinals Training Camp where he is competing amongst some of the best in the league every day.
To the young players in the City of Chandler, to his former teammates at NAU, Bauman is a reminder that with hard work and dedication anything is possible. You don't have to go to a big school or travel out of state to play college ball, all you have to do is know that home is where the heart is and your dreams are what you strive for.
"It feels really good," Bauman said. "I'm finally getting the opportunity of playing in the NFL. I have my first game this weekend so I'm excited."
Bauman backs the thoughts of Souers, that Arizona is a hotbed for football talent.
"I feel like there's talent everywhere, but I feel as though there's some good talent in Arizona as well," said Bauman. "A lot of times good players get looked over, but once coaches really start to look at the players in Arizona I do think that they realize there is plenty of talent here."
In the end, you don't need to leave Arizona to have your dreams come true, the same opportunities can come your way by staying in state.