D.J. Foster had one of the greatest seasons ever by a running back in the state of Arizona, and he couldn't have done it without the help of a 5-foot-9, 145-pound freshman.
When spring ball began early this year, Saguaro football coach John Sanders lined Foster up at quarterback, and not just in Wildcat or run-option formations, but with traditional drop-back plays, where he needed to scan the field and make reads.
"They wanted me to be a pocket passer," Foster said. "I was like, ‘Dang, this is weird.'"
Luke Rubenzer came to his rescue, eventually showing enough promise in the offseason to take over the starting job, which let Foster line up next to him at tailback.
Foster finished the season with 234 carries for 3,058 yards and scored 60 total touchdowns on the year, a new state single-season record. He also set state marks for rushing yards in a game, touchdowns in a game, touchdowns in a career, points in a career and points in a season, according to Saguaro statisticians. Foster had 465 more rushing yards than anyone in the state and averaged 13.07 yards per carry, second to Chaparral's Davonte Neal.
Foster's exploits earned him the Tribune's Football Player of the Year award.
His most memorable performance came in the first round of the Division III state tournament. when Foster carried the ball 20 times for 508 yards and 10 touchdowns. He became the first Arizona player to ever rush for more than 500 yards in a game.
"In that 500-yard game, I counted eight guys that had a chance to bring him down (on one run)," Sanders said. "One kid had two chances at him and missed him. I heard kids afterward say that the closest they got to D.J. Foster was when they shook his hand after the game."
Foster capped his season by running the ball 36 times for 221 yards and a touchdown with two receiving scores in a 31-23 victory over Glendale Cactus in the Division III championship game.
Winning a state title is something many football players will never forget, let alone two.
But Foster literally can't remember it. He said he suffered a concussion on his second carry and can't recall large portions of the contest.
"I don't remember much," Foster said. "I remember people talking to me during the game, asking me, ‘Can I do this, and can I do this'. I just had a blank stare at them. I couldn't give them an answer. It was silent, quiet. The only thing I could remember seeing was the play. I would just lock that play in and try to run whatever that play was supposed to be and hold onto the ball."
Sanders said he repeatedly asked Foster how he was doing during the game, but his star insisted he was fine.
"He let me know (the severity of it) about a week after the game," Sanders said. "It's like, ‘DJ!'"
Foster's best friends at Saguaro were in the graduating class last year. At times, he said it was tough to get motivated this year after they moved on.
"I'm not going to lie, I had those phases," Foster said. "It's like, ‘Ugh, I have to do another year of this.' It's the same steps for four years, so it gets tiring."
Foster has a bright future, and could have mailed in his senior year before moving on to play collegiately. But Saguaro's coaches continued to push him, and Foster said he appreciated the tough love.
"It was a hard transition, and it took time," he said. "But this year meant a lot. If I had a senior year without a championship, I would have been very disappointed."