When Northern Arizona freshman running back Zach Bauman took a handoff 70 yards for a touchdown Sept. 2 against Western New Mexico, he might as well have continued running down the I-17 to Tempe.
The Division II Mustangs were no match for the true freshman Hamilton High School product as Bauman rushed for 167 yards on 22 carries for four touchdowns in his first ever collegiate game, an easy 48-0 NAU victory.
“I was a little nervous going into that game, but getting runs like that and having the stats I did, it was a dream come true,” Bauman said. “It always goes back to the O-line. I’m going to do what I do as a back, but if you’re O-line is not playing, you’re offense isn’t flowing.”
Bauman got the start because redshirt sophomore Giovannie Dixon was held out due to injury.
For his efforts, the freshman garnered the Division I FCS Performer of the Week honor by the College Football Performance Awards as well as some high praise from his next opponent.
“[He] had a heck of a game,” ASU coach Dennis Erickson said. “We had him in a camp and he’s an extremely good running back.”
Coming out of a senior season in which he contributed over 1600 yards and 30 touchdowns of offense, Bauman only received offers from Southern Illinois, Air Force and, of course, NAU.
Not unlike a number of his teammates, Saturday will be a homecoming of sorts for Bauman, who will look for a repeat performance against the Sun Devils (1-0) just miles away from where he played out his prep career.
“A lot of my family is going to be there,” Bauman said. “So to have a great game would be a blessing.”
Distributing the ball for the now-No. 24 (in the FCS) Lumberjacks (1-0) is redshirt senior quarterback Michael Herrick.
On the watch list for the Walter Payton Award, the Heisman Trophy of the FCS, Herrick received the most votes among juniors last year.
“Michael Herrick is the leader of the team, he means a lot to us,” Bauman said. “He’s the captain of the offense. He’s shown me the ropes and told me what to do out here and it’s great to have a senior quarterback like that.”
The one-time Mississippi transfer was named to numerous preseason FCS All-American lists after throwing for 3,356 yards with 22 touchdowns last season including a record setting 574 yard performance against Eastern Washington.
The redshirt senior completed 15 of his 25 pass attempts for 178 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions to start the 2010 season.
Both Herrick and Bauman will need to bring their A-plus games Saturday night if NAU hopes to secure its first victory over an FBS team since defeating Tulsa in 1987.
“Their defense flies around pretty fast, the fastest I’ve ever seen,” Bauman said. “It’s a pleasure being able to play them.”
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