Bowen analyzes football: preps to pros


Bowen analyzes football: preps to pros

Matt Bowen, you are the new owner of an NFL franchise. You have more money than Bill Gates. Who is your first hire and why? Second hire? Third?

"Quarterback," Bowen said. "I want to make sure I have a quarterback before I get a coach. You can't win in the NFL without a quarterback. Outside of Chicago, all of the coaches who were fired last week were fired because they didn't have a quarterback. You need a leader on offense and in the locker room that everyone looks up to."

Bowen was an All-State quarterback at Glenbard West, an All-Big Ten strong safety at Iowa and played for seven years in the NFL with the Rams, Packers, Redskins and Bills. Now he is football analyst for Comcast SportsNet, the National Football Post and several other media outlets.

He knows the game. He believes you didn't have to play the game to understand it. His role is to teach the game, to entertain, to show viewers and readers why it happened and how it happened, to go deeper than X's and O's and instant replay.

"I wouldn't have lasted seven years in the NFL if I didn't study. And that applies to high school, college and the pros. It's the same game," Bowen said. "I want to give fans a different and deeper perspective of the game. Some are turned on by it and some aren't. I wanted to take something from my experience."

Bowen's experience taught him that quarterback is the most important position in football, not coach or general manager or left offensive tackle or running back.

He was a very good high school quarterback. As a senior, he passed for 1,533 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 1,329 yards and 17 touchdowns for a 6-4 team. Hayden Fry and one-time Heisman Trophy runner-up Chuck Long recruited him to play quarterback at Iowa. But he soon learned how good you have to be to play at the highest levels.

"I quarterbacked the scout team as a freshman," Bowen recalled. "Then I was converted to defensive back. I met with Chuck Long. He said: 'Do you want to play on Sundays? You won't do it as a quarterback.' They knew if I would be successful in college, I would be a defensive back."

Bowen is quick to point out that the best NFL teams he ever played for were led by outstanding quarterbacks--Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Mark Brunell.

"There are only 32 quarterback jobs in the world and half of them get replaced every year," he said. "If you are in the top 16, you are special, someone who gets it done on the field."

Bowen's second hire as the new owner of an NFL franchise?

"General manager, someone who doesn't miss, a good talent evaluator, someone like Ted Thompson of the Packers or Tom Dimitroff of the Falcons," Bowen said. "Then I would tell the general manager to hire the coach that he wants. That would be my third hire."

Bowen spent time in Washington, D.C., with Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who wants to be involved in all football issues and decisions, as Jerry Jones with the Cowboys. "That isn't the way to do it," he said.

"Let the general manager hire the coach. Of course, the owner has final approval. But let the general manager do his homework and do his job. Let him decide who will fit your style and personnel.

"And let the coach hire the position coaches, the offensive and defensive coordinators. That is so important. They are gold. That's how you get better as a player, by working with the tight end coach, the offensive line coach, the defensive back coach, the special teams coach.

"And, finally, build a great training facility, the best one that your money can buy, the best there is, like Baltimore...a weight room, training room, locker room, film room, indoor practice facility."

The game has changed dramatically since Bowen was growing up in Glen Ellyn and recalling the tradition of Glenbard West football, the Bill Duchon era and Jim Covert's 1991 team that finished 10-1 and included Craig Williams, Darren Dunlap and Billy Harris. He was a three-sport athlete who thought he was a better baseball player but couldn't shake an undying passion for football.

"There was something about football...the team aspect, the game day aspect," Bowen said. "When you are born, you can hit or you can't hit. You can't teach hitting. I felt if I could hit I could compete.

"Specialization is baloney. Kids should play every sport and experience different coaching. The different movements are huge with the development of an athlete.

"Football was the thing for me. I wanted to be those guys at Glenbard West who walked down the hill. When I was a freshman, I wanted to be like the 1991 team. I wanted to be those guys.

"I knew the tradition, that it was like being a pro in Glen Ellyn, being on the varsity football team. That's what everybody wanted to be, a Hilltopper, a hitter. Playing on Duchon Field is like playing in Wrigley Field."

But what happens when it is all over, when you no longer are good enough or fast enough or young enough to play a kid's game, when an assistant coach tells you to report to the head coach and bring along your playbook? For Bowen, the release date was March 1, 2007.

"I had opportunities to continue to play," Bowen said. "At that time, my wife and I had our first of three sons, Matthew, who has Down Syndrome. He was starting therapy. Should I leave him to cover kicks for another year? It was time to do something else. There is a time when you have to start looking at your future. It was a perfect time for me to grow up and be a big boy.

"The toughest part when you hang it up is when you are thrown back into real life. It no longer is the fantasy life of pro football. The first thing you realize is you are in your 30s and you don't have a job yet. For some, it is hard to find something to do. It was an adjustment. The first NFL Sunday, when I was watching a game on TV, I was in a daze, not being part of a team."

Bowen's wife had a good game plan. "Why don't you go back to school?" she suggested. He enrolled at DePaul to study for a masters degree in journalism, specifically writing and reporting. He quickly learned that his football clippings didn't mean anything in the classroom.

"The professors don't care that you played pro football," he said. "If you don't do you work, you don't get grades. I wanted to get adjusted to life after football. It was another challenge. I wanted to be a good writer."

After obtaining his degree in 2009, Bowen has written for the Sun-Times, Tribune, National Football Post and Washington Examiner and articulated his views on many TV and radio shows, including Comcast's Chicago Tribune Live, WGN, Boers & Bernstein on WSCR.

"The game was tougher back then...high school, college and pro. They were more physical," he said. "I can understand why it isn't now with players, parents, coaches and trainers so worried about concussions. Back then, we didn't worry about it.

"And the game has changed. It is more wide open, more athletic. Offenses are multiple, creative, wild. Stuff you used to draw up in the sand is making its way into the NFL. Everybody in the NFL used to try to be Peyton Manning. But it isn't that way anymore. Now it's all about athletes...bigger, faster, stronger, leaner."

At Glenbard West, Bowen ran a veer option with two tight ends, two running backs and one wide receiver. There were three coaches on the varsity level, not 12 as is the case today.

"But some things never change," he said. "As a sophomore, I was told to hit the blocking sled. 'But I'm the quarterback,' I said. 'The whole team hits the sled,' I was told. The best teams hit. They are technicians. But looking at tackling on all levels today. It isn't what it used to be. Defenses are scared of option offenses."

Bowen relished an invitation to participate in the telecast of the Class 7A and 8A high school championships last November. When he accepted the offer, he had no idea that his alma mater would be playing in the Class 7A final. He felt like he was wearing his green and white uniform with the big G on his helmet. Once a Hilltopper, always a Hilltopper.

"It brought back a lot of memories," he said. "Mount Carmel (the Class 8A champion) ran a veer option. Their execution was so smooth. They dont make mistakes. (Quarterback) Don Butkus reminded me of Darren Dunlap, great football awareness.

"(Glenbard North's) Justin Jackson can be a Big Ten player. He reminds me of Eddie George, up and down, powerful, doesn't take a lot of hits. Glenbard West showed so much speed on defense. They are so well-coached. When you do everything right, read your keys, play at a 4.4 pace, it's like watching Notre Dame football and an SEC defense."

He still can't forget his team's 31-20 loss to Naperville Central in the opening round of the Class 6A playoff in 1994.

"It was disappointing," said Bowen, who played on two 6-4 teams. "We all look back and feel we could have done it better. There still are games I think about that bother me, like two last-second losses to Downers Grove North as a junior and senior.

"And the playoff game against Naperville Central and (Player of the Year) Tim Lavery. I threw a deep ball to Hasani Steele for a touchdown. But we lost. What could we have done differently?"

Almost 20 years later, he still is trying to figure it out.

IHSA Football Playoffs First-Round Matchups


IHSA Football Playoffs First-Round Matchups

The IHSA Football Playoff Pairing show is going on live on CSN Chicago and streaming on as teams from all over Illinois are finding out where they'll play in the first round.

Here's a look at the first-round matchups for each class.

Be sure to follow @CSNPreps and @IHSA_IL for all of the latest IHSA playoff football information.


(1) Ottawa Marquette (9-0) vs. (16) Milledgeville (5-4)
(8) Dakota (6-3) vs (9) Polo (6-3)
(4) Aquin (8-1) vs (13) Oakwood-A.P. (5-4)
(5) Hiawatha (7-2) vs (12) LeRoy (6-3)
(2) Forreston (9-0) vs (15) Luther North (5-4)
(7) Stark County (6-3) vs (10) Westminster Christian (6-3)
(3) Stockton (9-0) vs (14) Salt Fork (5-4)
(6) Lena-Winslow (7-2) vs (11) Bureau Valley (6-3)
(1) Tuscola (9-0) vs (16) Oblong (5-4)
(8) Camp Pt. Central (7-2) vs (9) Carrollton (6-3)
(4) Decatur Lutheran (8-1) vs (13) Red Hill (5-4)
(5) Arcola (7-2) vs (12) Calhoun (6-3)
(2) St. Teresa (8-1) vs (15) Cumberland (5-4)
(7) Pawnee (7-2) vs (10) Athens (6-3)
(3) Argenta-Oreana (8-1) vs (14) Warrensburg-Latham (5-4)
(6) Brown County (7-2) vs (11) Greenfield-NW (6-3)


(1) Newman C.C. (9-0) vs (16) Clifton Central (5-4)
(8) St. Joesph (7-2) vs (9) Peru St. Bede (6-3)
(4) Deer Cr.-Mackinaw (8-1) vs (13) Orion (6-3)
(5) Hope Academy (8-1) vs (12) Knoxville (6-3) 
(2) Annawan-W'field (8-1) vs (15) West Prairie (5-4)
(7) Gibson City-MS (7-2) vs (10) El Paso-Gridley (6-3)
(3) Eastland-Pearl City (8-1) vs (14) Rockridge (5-4)
(6) Fulton (7-2) vs (11) Momence (6-3)
(1) Tri-Valley (9-0) vs (16) Rushville (5-4)
(8) DuQuoin (7-2) vs (9) Red Bud (7-2)
(4) Eldorado (8-1) vs (13) Flora (6-3)
(5) Maroa-Forsyth (8-1) vs (12) Johnston City (6-3)
(2) Unity-Payson (9-0) vs (15) Illini West (5-4)
(7) Carmi-White Co. (7-2) vs (10) Shelbyville (6-3)
(3) West Hancock (9-0) v. (14) St. Thomas More (6-3)
(6) Bismarck-Henning (7-2) vs (11) Sangamon Valley (6-3)


(1) IC Catholic (9-0) vs (16) St Joseph-Ogden (5-4)
(8) Paxton-Buckley-Loda (8-1) vs (9) Mercer County (7-2)
(4) Wilmington (9-0) vs (13) Corliss (6-3)
(5) Byron (9-0) vs (12) Eureka (6-3)
(2) Farmington (9-0) vs (15) Winnebago (5-4)
(7) Elmwood-Brimfield (8-1) vs (10) Bloomington CC (7-2)
(3) Westville (9-0) vs (14) Marine Military (6-3)
(6) Monticello (9-0) vs (11) Clark (7-2)
(1) Newton (9-0) vs (16) Auburn (IL) (8-1)
(8) Pana (8-1) vs (9) Marshall (IL) 8-1)
(4) Carlinville (8-1) vs (13) East Alton-Wood River (6-3)
(5) Williamsville (8-1) vs (12) Hillsboro (6-3)
(2) Mt Carmel (IL) (9-0) vs (15) Sesser-Valier (5-4)
(7) Vandalia (8-1) vs (10) Tolono Unity (7-2)
(3) North Mac (8-1) vs (14) Beardstown (5-4)
(6) Fairfield (8-1) vs (11) Anna-Jonesboro (7-2) 


(1) Herscher (9-0) vs (16) Illinois Valley Central (5-4) 
(8) South Shore (7-2) vs (9) Dixon (7-2)
(4) Phillips (8-1) vs (13) Kewanee (6-3)
(5) Aurora Central Catholic (8-1) vs (12) Wheaton Academy (6-3)
(2) Johnsburg (9-0) vs (15) Marengo (5-4) 
(7) Plano (7-2) vs (10) Manteno (6-3)
(3) Genoa-Kingston (9-0) vs (14) Coal City (5-4)
(6) Rockford Lutheran (7-2) vs (11) Richmond-Burton (6-3)
(1) Althoff (9-0) vs (16) Carterville (5-4)
(8) Alton Marquette (7-2) vs (9) Taylorville (7-2)
(4) Mt Zion (8-1) vs (13) Richland County (5-4)
(5) Rochester (8-1) vs (12) Civic Memorial (5-4)
(2) Columbia (9-0) vs (15) Greenville (5-4)
(7) Canton (7-2) vs (10) West Frankfort (6-3)
(3) Herrin (8-1) vs (14) Watseka (5-4) 
(6) Breese Central (7-2) vs (11) Breese Mater Dei (5-4)

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Not all losses are created equal.

When Lincoln-Way East suffered a 35-30 defeat in Week 3 to Homewood-Flossmoor, the Griffins took positives away from the loss. They had held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, battled back from adversity in the second half and had a chance to win the game in the final minute. Even that loss in retrospect appeared acceptable – if there ever was an acceptable loss – as the Vikings are currently 8-0 and in their other seven wins have outscored their opponents by an average of 38 points.

By Week 3 the Griffins were still acclimating to the unique situation of playing at game speed with a host of Lincoln-Way North students who had transferred in the offseason. They had a defense made up almost entirely of first-year starters, and the offense was still rotating quarterbacks Jake Arthur and Max Shafer to figure out how to maximize their talent. By many standards the Griffins went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes with a team also considered to be a favorite for a state title.

The same couldn’t be said for the Griffins’ effort last Friday night in Bradley.

An esteemed program with a 2005 state title and 16 consecutive playoff appearances to their resume, it isn’t often the Griffins are embarrassed on Friday night. But those were the words head coach Rob Zvonar used in his postgame speech to the team following their 38-21 loss to the undefeated Boilermakers.

“We chose to play the game,” Zvonar began. “Which means you play it to the greatest of your ability and you honor each other, God, everybody by your play. And we didn’t do that tonight.”

There were plenty of reasons the Griffins suffered their second loss of the season. That is came in such blowout fashion was the bigger surprise. The Boilermakers found the end zone on their first two possessions, rallying behind a raucous home crowd hoping to see their team go 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Griffins defense, which had allowed 27 points the previous three weeks combined, were on their heels as the Boilermakers used misdirection and a few trick plays to set up the short touchdown runs.

The Griffins offense moved down the field on their fourth possession, moving inside the Boilermakers red zone looking to get on the board. But Iowa commit Camron Harrell stepped in front of a Griffins screen pass on 4th down and returned it 89 yards for a score. On the final play of the first quarter, with the Griffins moving again, Damien Williams read a route and picked off Jake Arthur, returning it 53 yards for a score to give the Boilermakers a shocking 28-0 lead after 12 minutes.

After a spirited halftime speech from Zvonar, the Griffins came out firing in the second half, scoring on a touchdown run from Nigel Muhammad and a Jeremy Nelson 27-yard reception from Arthur. But the Boilermakers weathered the storm each time Lincoln-Way East attempted a comeback. The Griffins only got as close as 14 points late in the fourth quarter.

“I think we came into this game not ready,” said Muhammad, who finished with 164 yards on 24 carries. “But we’re all a team and we all accept this loss together.”

Added senior Jack Carroll, who finished with a team-high nine tackles: “We have this sick feeling in our stomach right now but the best thing is (next) Friday we can come back and get it out of our stomach. If we lose again in the playoffs then we’ll have that sick feeling in our stomach for the rest of our lives.”

That’s now the reality for the Griffins, and a silver lining if there ever could be one for such a blowout loss. With the playoffs a mere week away – the Griffins defeated Lockport on Friday to finish the regular season 7-2 – the feeling each of them felt getting on the bus back to Frankfort will linger with them and act as a reminder of how quickly things can slip away.

“We’re trying to put this behind us,” said Max Shafer. “We’re going to try to get hot and make a run in the playoffs.”

In a loaded 8A class, the Griffins’ two regular-season losses have already knocked them down in the seeding process. While any loss before Week 9 means little in the long run – the Griffins locked up a playoff berth weeks ago – it also means a more difficult road to Champaign. But that’s the reality for Zvonar’s group, and whether it’s a defense playing faster or an offense avoiding costly mistakes, the Griffins are running out of time to right the ship.

But Zvonar believes such a loss as the team suffered last Friday night can act as the catalyst to doing just that. The Griffins have established themselves as one of the state’s premier programs, and that means not riding the highs too high, and not breaking apart when the lows come. Last Friday night was as low as Zvonar had seen any of his 16 teams, but the silver lining occurred in that his squad now knows what it has to do to avoid it when it’s win or go home.

“What we also think is that the program is built on a solid foundation, so when you take a little hit like that you battle back and you go back to what you believe in and what you know can be successful. And that’s fundamentals and keeping things simple, and the kids have bounced back and they’re not acceptable to them what occurred to them, so very proud of their effort and the way they’re working.