TEMPE, Ariz. — From Chandler to Flagstaff to Tempe and, hopefully, Glendale.
Zach Bauman’s life in football has taken him many places and given him many opportunities, the latest of which is with the Arizona Cardinals.
“I’m from here, I know the Arizona weather gets hot, but it’s great weather and it’s great team to be a part of too,” he said Friday at the team’s Tempe training facility following a rookie camp practice. “So I’m just working my tail off trying to get a part of this squad.”
Bauman’s road won’t be easy.
Though he finished his college career with 5,132 yards and 46 touchdowns on the ground and was a three-time first-team All Big Sky selection while also leaving Northern Arizona University as the school’s all-time leading rusher, the 5-foot-7, 196-pound back did not hear his name called during the NFL Draft.
Draft weekend did not deter Bauman much. In fact, at most it served as a short detour, the end of which led him to a familiar place.
“It was just the right situation for me,” he said. “Throughout the whole draft, I wanted to be drafted, I wanted to hear my name called on that day.
“But the only thing I asked God to do was put me in the best situation for me to have the best success, and I landed here. What better place than your hometown?”
Though his path to the Cardinals may not have been ideal, Bauman did make it to where he wanted to be. Now all he has to do is earn a roster spot with a team that seems to be pretty set at the running back position.
“How well can you play on special teams,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of what determines who will get the final spot behind Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer. “The fourth running back spot is normally a quality situational football player or a very, very good special teams player.”
Arians pointed to second-year pro Robert Hughes out of Notre Dame as someone who has been performing well and would seem to have the advantage for the final spot.
“It would be very hard for one of the young guys to unseat him right now, but it’s possible.”
Arians has shown willingness in the past to turn to rookies, sometimes the undrafted ones, so it’s not as if Bauman has no chance of sticking with the team. The coach is part of the reason why Bauman is excited about the opportunity in front of him.
“It’s a great offense; I’ve been looking through the playbook and I love the plays,” he said. “Bruce Arians is a great coach and he really motivates you. I see he put his players in the best position to make the best plays, and it’s a great offense to be in.”
Besides the playbook, Bauman is also learning the speed of the NFL. Coming from the Big Sky Conference, it’s safe to say he has to adapt to his new surroundings.
“You’ve got to grow up quick,” he said. “I’m one the youngest rookies out here. It’s pretty much what I expected, though.”
At the end of the day football is still football, and no matter where he was before joining the Cardinals, from here he has as much of a chance as anyone to make the team.
It’s the Bruce Arians way.
“I don’t really care, we’re going to play the best guy,” the coach said. “Don’t care how you got here, when you got here; if you’re the best guy, you’re going to play.”
If Bauman can work his way into being one of those guys, it would be the culmination of a dream come true. Because while the goal was always to be on an NFL team, he never imagined he would be on the one from his home state.
“I’ve got my family behind me. I went to Hamilton, they went to NAU, so they were able to see all my games,” he said. “Now I’m right here with the Arizona Cardinals, so it’s a real big motivation to make the team.”