Alex Bauman, 2022 RBC graduate and current tight end for Tulane University, New Orleans, La. Courtesy photo
Alex Bauman, 2022 RBC graduate and current tight end for Tulane University, New Orleans, La. Courtesy photo

It would be easy for Alex Bauman to walk around with a gigantic ego this week.

After all, as a true freshman he made the game-winning touchdown catch with nine seconds left to give 14th-ranked Tulane University an improbable 46-45 Cotton Bowl win over No. 8 University of Southern California in Arlington, Tex. Jan. 2.

Actually, it was a game-tying catch as Tulane still had to kick the extra point, but the Associated Press wrote it was “probably the biggest touchdown in Tulane history.” Along with his TD catch, Bauman also had a 24-yard reception on a fourth-and-10 play during the winning drive. The victory overcame a Cotton Bowl-record five touchdown passes by Heisman Trophy winner Caleb Williams.

That’s the kind of stuff that can go to an 18-year-old kid’s head.

But speaking by phone from San Antonio the next day, the 2022 Red Bank Catholic graduate was reserved and modest; grounded by faith.    

“I think it’s just staying humble and giving all the glory to God, because without God this wouldn’t be able to happen,” said Bauman, a Red Bank resident who attends St. Leo the Great Parish, Lincroft. “One of our senior leaders, Nick Anderson, is a very faith-based guy. He’s someone I look up to as a role model. We would say a prayer and he would give an amazing speech before every game that would inspire us.”

Tulane was inspired to produce the greatest turn-around in college football history. After going 2-10 last season, the Green Wave finished 12-2 and won the American Athletic Conference championship. They saved their best for last, winning their biggest bowl game since the 1935 Sugar Bowl.

“I knew from watching all the games and keeping up with Tulane last year, we should have had a lot more wins than we did,” Bauman said. “I think that showed when I got here, with the intensity, the competitiveness, the leadership that was displayed. We knew as a team that we would be able to do something special.”

The Cotton Bowl win was more than special – it was mind-blowing. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, during the past five seasons teams had been 1-1,692 when trailing by 15 or more points with five minutes or less remaining in the fourth quarter.

But the Green Wave battled back from a 45-30 deficit in the final 4:10 to set up Bauman’s heroics. With time running out and the ball at the USC 6-yard-line, the tight end ran up the middle and, with linebacker – the “Mike” – Eric Gentry tightly covering him, went low to the ground to gather in a perfect pass from quarterback Michael Pratt. 

“We ran a streak play, and I knew I would be one-on-one with the Mike [Gentry] over the middle,” Bauman said. “I knew I would have to fight off the Mike on my back and fight his physicality and length. Michael Pratt, my quarterback and best friend, threw a perfect ball. He trusted me in a situation like that and we came up with a play.”

The officials, however, initially ruled the pass incomplete, saying it had hit the ground despite Bauman leaping up and loudly proclaiming he made the catch. They reviewed the play, which was the longest minute of Bauman’s life waiting for the decision.  

“I was just trying to calm myself down,” he said. “I was confident that I did catch the ball because I knew right away it never hit the ground. I knew it moved a little bit, but I did secure it. I looked up at the replay one time; saw the ball never hit the ground. I think that’s when the crowd started reacting. I was just trying to keep my emotions down because I knew we still had to go out and make the extra point to win.”  

Once the game ended, it made Bauman a Cotton Bowl champion just 13 months after he and Red Bank Catholic were state sectional championships.

“Winning a state championship was one of my goals growing up but doing it on a college stage in a big game like the Cotton Bowl might take the cake,” he said. “I think today it’s sunk in a little more. Yesterday after the game it was absolute disbelief and a little bit unreal. It’s something you dream of all the time as a kid growing up … it’s like, ‘Did that really just happen?’”

Alex’s phone immediately blew up with congratulatory texts and calls from friends, family and former teammates, and he “appreciated everyone who reached out.” Along with his faith, he used his support system to remain grounded, saying “I have a great supporting group of people around me: my family, my teammates and coaches. Everyone just makes sure to keep working hard and getting ready for the next game, or now for the next season.”

In looking back on this season, Bauman suited up for every game and played in 12 of the 14. He suffered a slight injury that kept him out and was used mostly as a blocking tight end. In Game 3 against Southern Mississippi, he had four catches for 47 yards, but did not have another reception until the AAC championship win over Central Florida after Tyrick James was injured. James was Tulane’s leading pass catcher at tight end with 25 receptions.

“In the game plan leading up to [the Cotton Bowl], they said I would have a bigger role,” Bauman said. “Someone I looked up to [James] got hurt, and I knew I had some big shoes to fill.”

He filled them admirably in front of 55,239 spectators at AT&T Stadium and a national television audience on ESPN – and never let it go to his head.