TEMPE, Ariz. -- With the exception of one year in Foxboro, Massachusetts, D.J. Foster's football life has been contained to the same one state.
Foster grew up in Scottsdale, where he went to Saguaro High School, then attended Arizona State. That is where most homegrown careers tend to take a detour, and Foster’s was no different.
The running back was offered free-agent contracts by both the Arizona Cardinals and the New England Patriots after going undrafted in 2016. After considering both teams, Foster packed his bags for the East Coast.
Since then, though, Foster's found his way home.
The Cardinals signed Foster off the Patriots’ practice squad Sept. 11, in the wake of David Johnson's wrist injury in Week 1. With the swipe of a pen, Foster didn’t just complete the football trifecta -- high school, college and pro -- in the same state, but he found himself in a unique situation: He was playing for the NFL team he grew up watching.
“I wouldn’t say I was the biggest fan but I always followed them,” Foster said. “You always follow your hometown team. I watched them for years and years, seeing guys come and go, seeing the transition, always keeping up with the success or whatever happened that season.
“I’ve always had my attention on that stuff. Even when I was in New England, you always watch where you’re from. So it’s pretty cool to see guys every day like David Johnson come into the mix. I’m rooting for them and then they come in the locker room.”
But, as it would be for any Arizonan, there’s one player in particular who has made playing for the Cardinals (6-7) a bit surreal.
Foster, now 24, has been watching receiver Larry Fitzgerald play since he was 10 years old. Foster attended Fitzgerald’s camps as a kid and worked them during college.
Now they’re teammates.
“And being in the same locker room and not only seeing them but seeing it firsthand how they are as professionals, it’s pretty amazing and it’s a pretty cool experience.”
Coming home isn’t just a “pretty cool experience” for Foster.
He’s back near his parents, Darryll and Ruth, his grandparents and other family. Besides being close enough for the random drop-in -- what parent doesn’t like that? -- Foster was around for Thanksgiving and will be for Christmas. And after a year of attending just a handful of games in New England, his parents can go to every Cardinals home game.
For Foster’s first eight games with Arizona, his fans could only watch as he walked the sideline as an inactive player. Since Week 11 at Houston, though, Foster has been given more of a role, one that has grown in the wake of the Week 12 injury to fellow running back Adrian Peterson.
Now when Foster’s parents meet him after the game, they have more to talk about.
“It’s pretty cool to have them be a part of this journey with me,” Foster said.
His family aren't the only longtime supporters who've helped make Foster's transition back to Arizona easier.
Foster keeps a small circle of friends, which has prevented “long-lost” acquaintances from coming out of the woodwork. That’s how he likes it.
And they like that he’s back ... so they don’t have to cheer for the Patriots anymore.
“It was definitely exciting because a lot of my friends that I do keep in contact with and am very close with are huge Cards fans, so it was pretty cool for them to root for the team and as well as for me,” Foster said. “They had to root for New England while I was over there because, obviously, they care about me and stuff. So it’s pretty cool for them to be able to root for their team that they’ve been rooting for their whole life as well as me going out there and representing for that.”
Foster is used to being in the spotlight in Arizona. He won two state championships in high school. He was the face of the Sun Devils in college. And although he doesn’t have the same stature in the NFL, a lot of eyes are on the hometown kid.
But that doesn’t carry the type of pressure that hitting the field every day does.
“[There’s] definitely a sense of pride,” Foster said. “You want to go out there and represent. Even playing at Arizona State, you want to go out there and represent your community, people you grew up around.
“It’s just an awesome experience."