DJ Foster was one of Arizona’s greatest high school football players.
His stats speak for themselves. Foster rushed for 76 TDs combined in his junior and senior years at Saguaro High School. The dual-threat was unstoppable as a runner and receiver. He was the undisputed star on a team that went on to win a state title.
Just ask Christian Kirk, the Arizona Cardinals rookie receiver, who saw Foster play up close and personal. The two will play with the Cardinals together this season.
“That was the guy I wanted to be,” Kirk says at the Cardinals training facility in Tempe. “Everybody wanted to be DJ Foster when they went to Saguaro. He was the big man on campus. Best player in the state at the time.”
Kirk enrolled for his freshman year at Saguaro at just the right time. It coincided with Foster’s senior season when he set the Scottsdale football scene on fire.
As Foster’s teammate, Kirk watched as the 5-foot-11 RB set record after record. During the 2011 season, Foster rushed for an astounding 3,058 yards, with 54 TDs. He added another 250 yards and five TDs through the air.
But Foster’s finest moment came during a playoff matchup against Peoria’s Sunrise Mountain. The speedy runner went off, totaling 508 yards rushing and 10 TDs, setting new state records.
“What’s crazy about that game is it was a close game,” Foster says with a laugh. “When I tell people my stats from that game, they always think we killed them. It was definitely a cool moment for myself and family.”
The now 24-year-old’s incredible performance paved the way for Saguaro’s championship run.
During that year, Foster had offers to play at nearly any school he wanted. Programs like Oregon and USC wanted him, but he chose to stay close to home, attending ASU, where he made a name for himself as a versatile back.
Lining up in the backfield was something Kirk dreamt about, too. Although his pass-catching ability seems natural, the wideout position was not his first love.
“I played running back my whole entire life,” Kirk says. “When I got to Saguaro, they already had D.J. and they needed to find a spot for me on the field. I took on the role of receiver, and fell in love with the position.”
Thanks to Foster’s presence, Kirk was forced to transition to receiver his freshman year.
He made the move look easy. Through four years as a starter, Kirk recorded nearly 4,000 yards receiving, with 52 TDs. He also took over a good portion of the workload in the backfield after Foster graduated.
“I would watch his games and think, ‘This kid is incredible.’ He was a man among boys. He was going to be a superstar and everybody knew that,” Foster says of Kirk.
Now, five years removed from their days at Saguaro, Kirk and Foster are teammates once again. This time, it’s a bit of a step up in competition.
Their long and winding roads through the ranks have led them back home. But the two players are gearing up for the season in seemingly reversed roles.
Kirk is the emerging star, expected to earn a starting spot on offense, while Foster is hoping to contribute as a role player.
Still, the incredible opportunity to play pro football in their home state is not lost on the teammates.
“Getting the chance to play here is pretty special,” Foster confirms. “For me, the goal is to make the team. Go out and play my butt off; have a good preseason. I’m enjoying being home and I hope it lasts as long as it can.”
“It’s going to be more exciting to go out there and play. I’m going to have so many friends and family backing me. I really want to embrace that opportunity,” said Kirk.
The two players may have started in the same place as teenagers, but their football journeys differed in many ways after high school.
Even after an impressive career with the Sun Devils, Foster was unable to shake criticism of his size and speed. He was passed over by every team and eventually signed by the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2016.
Kirk, on the other hand, became a superstar wideout with Texas A&M. He saw his TD total climb in each season, leaving the school after his junior year, with 234 receptions.
Foster was picked up by the Cardinals last September, coming over from the Patriots’ practice squad. The Scottsdale native admitted he had been keeping tabs on the Cardinals’ RB situation, so when the injury bug hit starter David Johnson, Foster was hoping for a call.
“I was just sitting at home in Boston and I heard the news about David Johnson going down. Next thing you know my agent is calling me saying they want to bring you over,” Foster says.
“When my agent told me that, I was ecstatic.”
The feeling was mutual for Kirk. The highly touted WR was hoping he’d be a first-round pick in last April’s draft. While that dream didn’t come to fruition, he was lucky enough to land in his preferred destination.
“Honestly, this was the last place I thought I’d go,” Kirk confesses. “It’s not that I didn’t think they were interested, I just thought it was too good to be true. Three picks before they were up, I saw the 602 number pop up on my phone. I was at a loss for words; it was so surreal.”
Just like his days at Saguaro, Kirk has to manage expectations as he enters his rookie year with the Cardinals. But fortunately for him, he has Foster once again by his side, and another player to look up to – Larry Fitzgerald.
The Cardinals’ offense has lacked a true No. 2 option since the days of Michael Floyd. If everything works out as planned, the 2018 second-round pick should be standing across from Fitz on opening day.
“I’m just putting my head down and listening to everything he says,” Kirk said of the future hall of famer. “I’m asking him questions; I’m picking his brain. I’m just taking it all in. I’m doing whatever I can to hopefully win that No. 2 spot.”
Foster had a similar experience, sitting behind two NFL legends last season in Arizona.
“Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson were two of my favorite running backs growing up, so the chance to be in the same locker room as them was absolutely incredible,” Foster says. “It was a blessing for me to see that.”
While players like Peterson and Fitzgerald served as mentors for the two youngsters, Foster and Kirk find their biggest source of support in each other.
It’s been that way ever since their high school days at Saguaro.
“He was always super cool with me, and took on that big brother role,” Kirk says of their first time as teammates. “Since then, he always checks up on me.”
Foster reiterated Kirk’s statement.
“The year he spent in Saguaro, he was kind of like a little brother. I knew he was going to be the next guy up. While he was at Texas A&M, I was a big fan of his. I still am.”
The Arizona Cardinals’ home preseason begins 7 p.m. Saturday, August 11, with a game against San Diego Chargers. The first regular season home game is at 1:25 p.m. Sunday, September 9, against the Washington Redskins. For more information, visit azcardinals.com or ticketmaster.com. The University of Phoenix Stadium is at 1 Cardinals Drive, Glendale.