Not a fitting goodbye to NAU’s all-time best running back

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                </div>  While the University of Arizona and Arizona State football teams begin preparations for their bowl games, the players at Northern Arizona University have cleaned out their lockers and moved […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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While the University of Arizona and Arizona State football teams begin preparations for their bowl games, the players at Northern Arizona University have cleaned out their lockers and moved on to their next college project.

Zach Bauman is moving on, too, but not before leaving an indelible mark on the Lumberjack program.

The 21-year-old Chandler native has spent the last four years as the face of the NAU program and, before that, was one of the most recognizable high school football players in the state, setting single-season scoring and touchdown records as he led Hamilton High School to back-to-back state titles.

Bauman enjoyed a storybook ride in Flagstaff.  But the final chapter to his story, and his college career, was no storybook ending.

He closed out his career in a first-round loss in the playoffs on a day when his 101 yards rushing couldn’t pull his team through a disheartening 26-7 loss to South Dakota State.  The Jacks had won six straight going into the playoffs and were averaging better than 30 points a game over that stretch.  This time, Bauman contributed the only touchdown the Jacks could score.

To make matters worse, he played his last game without his head coach on the sidelines.  Jerome Souers, who had guided the gifted running back through four seasons, missed his final game when complications arose from recent back surgery he had undergone.  Defensive coordinator Andy Thompson took the reins for the game, unexpectedly having to step into the role at the last minute.

“The good thing is that he (Souers) trained us well,” Thompson said after the game.  “He prepared everybody all year long to step up and be leaders; we tried our best, but came up short.”

It’s not like either Bauman or the team came up empty this year.  NAU went 9-3 overall and 7-1 in conference, and its berth in the FCS playoffs was the first time it had accomplished that since 2003.  The Jacks finished the regular season with a 7-1 Big Sky record, good enough for second place, and was ranked No. 8 in the final Sports Network poll.

Even in the losing effort in the final game of his career, Bauman brought his lunch pail and blue-collar work ethic to the field one last time.  “I’m so proud of Zach,” said Thompson.  “He had a tremendous career and he’s a great competitor. He gave it everything and, even at the end, he was fighting for extra yards.”

And the youngster from Hamilton High used the final game of his career to become the school’s all-time points scorer with 310 points accumulated over four years.  Earlier in the season he took over as the school’s rushing leader.  In the second game of the season against UC Davis he passed the 3,795 yards he needed for that record.

He had already staked a claim on an equally impressive mark by the close of his junior year, when he became the first player in NAU history to run for 1,000 yards or more in three consecutive seasons.

It’s unclear yet whether he has a shot at playing professionally, but he seems to be taking a disappointing close to a record-setting college career in stride.

“I hate losing more than I love winning,” he admits.  “But it’s my senior season and I finally made it to a playoff game, so that’s a plus.”

Then he adds, with a slight smile: “I would have liked to go out with a couple more wins.”

(Photo collage: NAU Athletics)