“Zone Read” is a firm believer in everything happening for a reason, even if it’s not clear or comprehendible at the time.
This weekend marks the five-year anniversary of D.J. Foster’s 72-hour NFL draft whirlwind.
Expected to be selected as high as the fourth round, the Saguaro High legend and Arizona State standout running back/wide receiver/kick returner got a harsh indoctrination to the business of the NFL in the late spring of 2016.
Earlier this week I sat down with Foster – who openly discussed the rollercoaster ride of draft weekend, winning a Super Bowl with the Patriots, the professional advice he gave Saguaro alums and close friends Christian Kirk and Byron Murphy leading into their NFL drafts, a future passion to pursue after the NFL (whenever that may be), and much more.
How would you describe the days leading up to NFL Draft weekend? “It’s a hectic week. A lot of anxiety. A lot of expectations, especially for me coming out of ASU and being at home still. You have a lot of friends and family that have a lot of comments, a lot of opinions. These guys are young men. They’re 21, 22, 23 years-old. It’s a lot. Their whole life is about to change. For me, it was a lot. I did a workout for Houston, the Cardinals, and New England…I knew coming out how some teams would kind of judge me. Running back? Receiver? What would these teams view me as? I knew there were about five teams that would utilize me for the type of player I was.”
“It was tough. I knew that if I was going to get drafted, it was likely going to be to one of those teams – if they had a spot open. I knew Houston was looking at me in the third or fourth-round. I remember they went with [Ohio State’s] Braxton Miller. It was a lot of anxiety those three days. Sitting there waiting. I had a camera crew at my house. You had family coming and going. A lot of your friends don’t understand the process of it. They say, ‘Oh, of course he’s going to get drafted. It’s gunna happen.’ In the back of my mind, I understand how hard it is. There are only so many spots available to get drafted.”
“Everyday was like pulling [teeth]. I remember looking at my dad and saying, ‘I have to go through this again?’ Every day you’re just sitting there, waiting on your phone. Some guys get that ring and some guys don’t.”
You weren’t drafted but your “consolation prize’ was Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and, eventually, a Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots. Do you feel it’s almost detrimental for some players to get drafted in the sixth or seventh-round because they can land in a better spot, much like you did? “100 percent I do. I do. It’s tough because [being drafted] could put $70,000, $100,000 in your pocket – whatever that signing bonus is. That changes some peoples’ life. I understand that aspect of it but, having that option as a free agent, that opens a door for you. You can actually be strategic [in] where you want to go.”
Contract note: Undrafted free agent RB D.J. Foster received $30,000 guaranteed in his 3-year deal. A good number for an undrafted player.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) May 17, 2016
“The way my time was spent in New England and the opportunities I had. The people, the coaches, and the players I got to play with, I would not trade that experience for anything in the world. Obviously, having a Super Bowl ring. To experience that, I can’t imagine starting my NFL career off any differently. That was huge for me. To be able to hear Bill Belichick on the phone, the greatest coach of all-time in my opinion, saying, ‘Hey, we love what you do. We think this is the best place for you. I know you’re sort of confused on your position. We’ll take care of that. Come here and we’ll figure that out for you.’”
“To have that confidence from Bill Belichick, I was like, ’Sign me up.’”
You were a huge star at Saguaro, a High School All-American. You then had a nice career at ASU but had to take the road less traveled in the NFL to where you are today. How much did you learn about yourself having to take a more unconventional route through the league? “I’d say going to New England was the biggest growth I had in my life. As a man. As a football player. As a human being. Going to college at home, I never got that feeling of leaving home…taking that step and going to New England, I think I grew so much as a football player. Being able to expand my mind.”
“New England is known for having one of the hardest playbooks. To go in as a rookie and try to learn receiver and running back…when it comes to terminology, memorization…I went in with a blank slate. I wanted to learn football from scratch. That was the approach I took to it. There was a lot to it and everything was happening so fast. That was the best thing for me.”
“With the Cardinals I’ve had three different head coaches: Bruce Arians, Steve Wilkes and Kliff Kingsbury. That’s three different playbooks but that foundation with the Patriots helped me learn those new playbooks. Nothing compares to [New England’s]. I was able to learn everything else quite easily.”
No better feeling … Thank you God for never leaving my side! https://t.co/j8zVHZKLYN
— D.J. Foster (@ASTATE_8) August 30, 2019
Did you talk to fellow Saguaro alums Christian Kirk and Byron Murphy leading up to their draft weekends? If so, what did you tell them? “Yes, I did. I knew they were going to get drafted, It’s funny, I actually called both of them where they were going to get drafted [laughing]. Obviously, Arizona. I knew that was going to happen! I called it!”
“When they got here to Arizona, I talked to them about, ‘Now that you’re here. Now it’s time to learn as a professional how to make that transition.’”
“I think both of those guys are going to have long careers. That’s why they are who they are. They were already pros before they became pros and I think that says a lot about those guys, to Saguaro – that staff and that program. Their families. Those guys were already legit,”
“I talked to Christian about New England because I think he had a workout there. Just about being in the league because I was already there a couple of years before they got there. They are on their own journey now and I couldn’t be more proud of both of them.”
What a blessing still being able to play this game … hasn’t been easy but it’s worth it making memories like these 🙏🏽 https://t.co/dxfqzfYIIP
— D.J. Foster (@ASTATE_8) September 29, 2019
What do you miss more – playing for Saguaro or playing for ASU? “Wow. That is a tough one [laughing]. They were both such important chapters in my life and it’s funny, I have best friends from both. I have best friends from Saguaro that I still talk to to this day, and I have beat friends from ASU.”
“I would say Saguaro because there’s nothing like high school football. I know a lot of people say that and, you know, I got the chance to go all the way to the NFL. But those memories in high school. There’s something about that community. The people in the stands. The people you grew up with. Being able to represent that and the culture of Saguaro. That will forever be engrained in my heart and in my mind. But I had a great time at ASU, too.”
Fun day with the bros… reminiscing on some great memories…Love this place ! https://t.co/gLPzlVa3mg
— D.J. Foster (@ASTATE_8) July 22, 2019
Your era in high school, in some ways, started the explosion of Arizona high school football in this state. Now Arizona is well-established on the national scene for producing high-level talent. Are you taken back or surprised by all our current prep football success? “I always knew it was here. I’m proud and I’m happy that we have some great coaches. We have some coaches that have stuck around and have put in the work with these kids.”
“You see kids moving here, transferring here. Plus, the kids that grew up here, too. The level of football being played is just getting higher and higher. As someone who went through the process and am now just a fan, I enjoy it. I’d love to coach it someday, as well.”
“ I argue with everybody from California to Texas. I doesn’t matter what team I’m on, Arizona football…you’re slowly starting to see the gain of respect it has. You see these guys in the NFL. Guys like Cameron Jordan [Chandler High School]. We’ve had six guys from Arizona on the Cardinals at one point. It’s really cool to see guys making it at the next level, guys playing at the next level and having an impact at the next level, not just being on a college roster. That’s what I love to see as an alumni of Arizona football. It’s just getting better and better.”
I love how Arizona bred football is representing 👏🏽👏🏽… so happy for @NkealHarry15 @byronmurphy !
— D.J. Foster (@ASTATE_8) April 26, 2019
Foster, 27, who played the previous four seasons with the Cardinals, is currently an unrestricted free-agent but is fully healthy and hoping to continue his NFL career either here in the Valley, or elsewhere.
Your home state couldn’t be more proud of you, D.J.