For a number of players on the Northern Arizona football roster, Sun Devil Stadium will act as a proving ground on Saturday night.
Twenty-one players on the Big Sky Conference squad hail from the Valley, meaning this weekend's contest against Arizona State (1-0) will be perhaps their best opportunity to play in front of family and friends.
And don't think some of these Lumberjacks won't be playing with chips on their shoulders.
Take freshman running back Zach Bauman, who was a local prep star at powerhouse Chandler Hamilton. Despite tallying more than 1,600 total yards and setting a single-season school record for touchdowns (30) during his senior year -- when Hamilton won its second straight state title -- Bauman wasn't offered by either of the two in-state FBS schools, due perhaps to a perceived lack of open-field speed.
NAU (1-0) was quick to pounce on 5-foot-10, 200-pound back, a recruitment that has already paid dividends for the Lumberjack coaching staff. Filling in for injured starting tailback Giovannie Dixon in the team's opener against Western New Mexico last Thursday, Bauman debuted with 167 yards rushing and four touchdowns as NAU rolled to a 48-0 win.
"After the first carry, the nerves went away," Bauman told the Arizona Daily Sun after the game. "I just tried to put my pads down and run hard."
After watching game film of that performance, ASU coach Dennis Erickson came away impressed with Bauman and the rest of the NAU offense.
"He had a heck of a game [against Western New Mexico]," Erickson said. "We had him at our [one-day, invitation-only camp in June of 2009], and he's an extremely good running back."
With a running back heavy recruiting class -- Taylor Walstad, Deantre Lewis, Kyle Middlebrooks and non-qualifier Damien Williams were all a part of the 2010 group -- the Sun Devils didn't have a scholarship left to add Bauman, but the former Hamilton star seems to be fitting in nicely in Flagstaff.
Also feeling at home among the pines is senior NAU quarterback Michael Herrick, who has established himself as one of the most prolific passers in school history after transferring from Mississipi following his freshman season.
"He really gets rid of the football," Erickson said as an evaluation of Herrick. "He does some of the things we do [on offense]."
The ASU coach said he has seen a substantial improvement in NAU's play since arriving in Arizona in 2007, noting he has great respect for the job Lumberjack coach Jerome Souers has done in his 12 seasons in Flagstaff.
"They gave us everything they wanted a couple years ago (a 30-13 win by ASU in 2008) and they gave Arizona everything they wanted last year (a 34-17 Wildcat win)," Erickson said. "It's a real big game for some of those kids up there. A lot of guys are from this area and they're going to come down here and give it everything they've got, so we better be ready to play."
Too many penalties
During his weekly press conference Monday, Erickson once again bemoaned his team's abundance of penalties in its season-opening win over Portland State.
ASU was flagged 11 times for 93 yards in the 54-9 victory, including three 15-yard calls -- two personal fouls and an unsportsmanlike penalty after Cameron Marshall's first touchdown.
"The penalties have got to be addressed," Erickson said. "Three personal fouls is something we just can't have. We've talked about it and we'll continue to talk about it. You're going to have your hustle penalties, where you're hustling to get some place and you may hit somebody late, but the dumb penalties -- hitting someone when you shouldn't be -- to me it's selfish."
Erickson said Marshall didn't realize he was doing anything wrong when he pointed to the sky and then flexed his muscles following his 50-yard touchdown run, but he has told his players that handing the ball to the referee after a score is the best way to keep the yellow laundry off the field.
"The biggest thing is [officials] want you to celebrate with your teammates, and that's OK," Erickson said. "When you do something that brings something onto yourself individually that's when you get a penalty. Cameron is the quietest guy in the world; he never brings anything onto himself. Anyway, we learned."
No plan for Osweiler
Unlike last week, when Erickson said sophomore backup quarterback Brock Osweiler would play against Portland State, the coach made no such guarantee that the No. 2 signal-caller would see time against NAU on Saturday.
"It's always going to depend on the game," Erickson said. "[Threet] is our No. 1 quarterback, so you just play it like that and see what happens."
Playing most of the second half with the second-team offensive unit, Osweiler completed 6 of 10 passes for 72 yards in Saturday's win.
Junior defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, who injured his ankle after being cut blocked Saturday, "is fine," Erickson said.
The coach added that freshman defensive tackle Lee Adams (knee) and senior Saia Falahola (elbow) will be able to play Saturday.
Sophomore defensive tackles Toa Tuitea and Corey Adams will probably not play, with Erickson adding that he should have a more detailed update of their progress following Tuesday's practice.