NAU football breakdown: Running backs

By Steve Shaff
Northern Arizona Media

Relations

Northern

Arizona Media Relations will provide position previews every day leading

up to the season opener against Arizona State on Aug. 30. Today: running backs . Previously: tight

ends, wide

receivers, offensive

line and quarterbacks.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Junior running back Zach Bauman is the face of the Northern Arizona program after producing over 2,400 yards and 30 touchdowns in his first two seasons. He enters his junior year among the returning rushing leaders in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and has already made his mark in the school record books.

“He has been nothing short of amazing in his first two years,” said NAU coach Jerome Souers. “For him to come in as a true freshman and play the way that he did and come back with a sophomore year and be that much more effective shows what his talent level is. He is 15-20 pounds heavier without any loss of mobility or speed or change of direction. He has positioned himself to have another great year.”
 
Bauman ranked fourth in the country in rushing with over 1,400 yards and recorded seven games over 100 yards on the season in 2011. Running backs coach Jimmy Beal says Bauman has added film study to improve his weekly performance against opponents gearing to stop him.

“He is reading defenses and understanding the coverage,” said Beal. “He has really learned how to study an opponent. It is a big emphasis for us this year and finding out what defenses are trying to do and how they are trying to stop him. He is learning how guys read his body language and the different things he does on the field.”

Bauman is well-known by coaches across the country and within the Big Sky Conference, as evidenced by his selection as a preseason candidate for the Walter Payton Award. He was also named to several preseason All-America teams.

“We don’t face a better running back than Zach, in my opinion,” said Southern Utah head coach Ed Lamb. “You just have to put our video on from last year. In the span of two or three runs, he had a season worth of highlights and broken tackles. He is super explosive in the way he runs and has as good balance as any back I have seen. He bounces off tackles well and has good strength.

“He appears to be a humble, hard-working guy. I say that because his team works really hard for him and his coaches are committed to him. The team works hard for him.”

Bauman represented NAU at the Big Sky Conference Media Day event in Park City, Utah, last month, getting a chance to meet some of the defensive players he’ll play against this season.  

“As a linebacker, you are taught that running backs are your rival,” said Northern Colorado linebacker Clarence Bumpas, who finished fourth in the nation in tackles per game last season. “He is one of the best I have ever seen. He is elusive. He is a hard hitter and he runs downhill. He is destined for great things.”

Bauman isn’t the only weapon in the NAU backfield this season. The Lumberjacks added California transfer Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson (a Chandler Hamilton product, like Bauman) in the offseason to provide depth and experience behind Bauman. Deboskie-Johnson has showed a powerful running style and ability in the passing game.

“He is a great asset to our program,” said Beal. “He graduated from Cal and going for his master’s here at NAU. His knowledge of the game is great. I would volunteer him to be my assistant coach right now. He is very detailed in his study and note-taking. He is a leader in my group.”

Austin Shanks, who returned to the backfield in spring practice, gives NAU options and additional speed.
 
Junior-college transfer Daniel Pipkin adds depth to the position and has shown his talent in fall camp. The transfer from Santa Monica College rushed for over 500 yards on 85 carries and scored seven touchdowns last season.

“He is a tough runner and hard worker,” said Beal. “He is the first one in the meeting room and last one to leave the meeting. He is really going to help us and be as asset.”

True freshman Casey Jahn is also in the mix. He was named the Arizona Republic’s Small Schools (Divisions IV-VI) Player of the Year after becoming the first prep player in Arizona 11-man football history to rush for more than 7,000 yards in a career, finishing with 7,333 career yards and 107 touchdowns. He led the state of Arizona in rushing and scoring last season, rushing for 2,279 yards and 33 touchdowns during a 13-1 season as a senior at Phoenix Northwest Christian.
 
Second-team All-Big Sky fullback Jake Hess returns for his second season after joining the program from Boise State last fall. Hess proved that the fullback could be a valuable wrinkle to the offense and looks to make a bigger impact in 2012.

The success of the unit will still depend on Bauman, who is poised to have another big season and has put in the work in the offseason to take the next step toward stardom.

“I have worked harder than I have ever worked before,” said Bauman. “Every day I have done something towards football to better myself. I have become more of a student of the game and understand how the game is played. It is going to better me for a better season as a junior.”