Bowen analyzes football: preps to pros

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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.

2017 CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area Team

2017 CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area Team

The 2016-17 high school basketball season is finally in the books as the Chicagoland area saw a lot of star performances from throughout the year.

So it's time to unveil the 15-man, three-team, CSN Preps Boys Basketball All-Area team.

While other awards might only count regular-season accomplishments, the CSN Preps All-Area team is unique because we also include postseason accomplishments and titles when considering the three teams.

Only players from the Chicagoland area are consisdered for the All-Area teams as factors such as strength of schedule, final statistics, team accomplishments and personal awards are all weighed in the final decision.

Here's a look at the three All-Area teams and the CSN Preps Player of the Year. 

First Team

Alonzo Verge, Thornton senior guard (Player of the Year) -- The choice for Player of the Year is Verge after he burst back on the local scene after a year away. Leading the Wildcats back to a Class 4A sectional title game, Verge averaged 26 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and three steals per game as he was the most unstoppable player in the area this season. Verge helped Thornton to a Southwest Suburban Red title while he earned MVP honors at the Big Dipper for leading the Wildcats to victory. 

Ayo Dosunmu, Morgan Park junior guard -- The only junior to make the All-Area team, Dosunmu averaged 18.3 points per game while helping the Mustangs win the Public League Red-South and Class 3A state championship. Although Dosunmu didn't play much in Peoria when the Mustangs won state, they definitely needed him to get there as the junior had some big-time playoff performances. 

Cameron Krutwig, Jacobs senior center -- One of the best players ever to come out of the Fox Valley Conference, Krutwig finishes his career with 1,528 points and ninth in state history with 1,258 career rebounds. A monster senior season saw Krutwig put up 15.3 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 2.4 assists per game entering regional finals as he was the area's best post player this season. Led Jacobs to three straight Fox Valley titles, three regional titles in four seasons and a sectional title this season.

Nojel Eastern, Evanston senior guard -- Another prolific four-year player, Eastern was a third-team CSN All-Area selection last season. After a solid regular season that saw him average 18 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks per game, Eastern elevated his play to an elite level in the state playoffs in helping the Wildkits to a Class 4A sectional title. Eastern put up 31 points, 10 rebounds and six steals in the Super-sectional loss to Whitney Young and 29 points and 17 rebounds in a win over Waukegan for the sectional title. 

Lucas Williamson, Whitney Young senior guard -- The unsigned senior had a final year to remember as Williamson helped the Dolphins to a Class 4A state title. The 6-foot-4 Williamson averaged 17.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free-throw line. Also the MVP of the Proviso West Holiday Tournament, Williamson improved dramatically as a perimeter shooter over his four-year high school career.

Second Team

Nana Akenten, Bolingbrook senior forward -- The Nebraska commit was able to combine high-flying above-the-rim plays along with a lethal perimeter jumper. The 6-foot-6 Akenten shot 49 percent from the field and 45 percent from three-point range during the season. Akenten put up 14.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game for the Raiders, as they finished third in Class 4A. The MVP of the Hinsdale Central Holiday Classic, Akenten has as much upside as anyone on this list. 

Evan Gilyard, Simeon senior guard -- After a four-year varsity career, Gilyard will go down as one of the better floor leaders that Simeon has ever had. The senior led the Wolverines to back-to-back city titles and back-to-back trips to Peoria as he averaged 15.9 points, 3.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting 39 percent from three-point range and 86 percent from the free-throw line. The A.C. Williamson award winner at Pontiac, Gilyard is committed to UTEP. 

Elijah Joiner, Curie senior guard -- After helping Curie win a Class 4A state title last year, Joiner had a very strong senior season as he averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. Joiner helped the Condors win a Red-Central conference title while he had a 40-point game on rival Kenwood. An all-tournament selection at Pontiac, Joiner is committed to Tulsa. 

Teyvion Kirk, Joliet West senior guard -- This uncommitted senior had a tremendous season on both ends of the floor for the Southwest Prairie champion Tigers. The 6-foot-3 Kirk averaged 19 points, four rebounds and three assists per game this season as he recently set his final four schools to Arkansas, Middle Tennessee, Ohio and St. Bonaventure. Kirk helped Joliet West to a sectional title last season and a regional title this season while earning all-tournament honors at Pontiac.

Justin Smith, Stevenson senior forward -- A CSN third-team All-Area selection as a junior, Smith is back on the list after a stellar senior season. Smith put up 21 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in the regular season for the Patriots as he put down some of the best dunks in the area over the last three years. Smith won a state title as a sophomore starter alongside Jalen Brunson and Connor Cashaw and emerged as a star in his own right this season. Smith is currently committed to Indiana.

Third Team

Kyle Sliwa, Fremd senior guard -- One of the area's most efficient shooters, Sliwa hit some of the biggest clutch shots of the season. Sliwa twice helped Fremd beat rival Conant with game-winning three-pointers, including a buzzer-beater to win a sectional title. The 6-foot-1 Sliwa averaged 16.4 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from three-point range. Named MVP of the Mundelein Thanksgiving Tournament, the Wheeling Hardwood Classic and the Mid-Suburban West, Sliwa helped Fremd to a 31-0 start and fourth-place finish in Class 4A. 

Dillon Durrett, Wheaton-Warrenville South senior forward -- The area's most improved player was the DuPage Valley Conference's best player after only averaging 2.3 points per game as a junior. Durrett was versatile on both ends of the floor for the Tigers as he averaged 17 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-3 Durrett often had to play bigger for a small team that won multiple in-season tournaments and went unbeaten in conference play.  

Jack Nolan, Benet senior guard -- Clutch players are tough to come by and Benet had a good one in this senior point guard. After Nolan helped lead the Redwings to a second-place finish in Class 4A last season he averaged 18 points per game and made 40 percent of his three-pointers. Also averaging three assists and two rebounds per game, Nolan was all-Tournament at Pontiac, MVP of the Loyola-New Trier Thanksgiving Tournament and an all-conference in the ESCC.

Tai Bibbs, West Chicago senior guard -- It wasn't quite the season that West Chicago hoped for but Bibbs still put up huge numbers, averaging 26 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while drawing a lot of Division I offers. The 6-foot-3 Bibbs was a two-time all-Upstate Eight Valley selection and he was the Valley's Player of the Year this season. Bibbs won MVP of the West Chicago Thanksgiving tournament and also was all-tournament at Dayton as he put up a tournament-best 32.8 points per game.

Demarius Jacobs, Uplift senior guard -- The best player in the Public League Red-North, the 6-foot-3 Jacobs was one of the premier two-way guards in the city. Jacobs helped the Titans win the Red-North and stay in the CSN Preps Power Rankings for most of the season as he averaged 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. An All-Tournament selection at Proviso West, Jacobs signed with Southern Illinois in the fall. 

Stagg quarterback Kyle Neputy goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Stagg quarterback Kyle Neputy goes 1-on-1 with Edgy Tim

Student first, then athlete.

Stagg junior quarterback Kyle Neputy has unquestionably taken the student portion of student-athlete to heart. Neputy, who is a high-honors student and touts an impressive 4.73 GPA, has drawn steady recruiting interest from college programs on several levels, including multiple Ivy League schools. Cornell has already extended Neputy an offer.

Neputy, a big, strong and athletic quarterback who measures in at 6-foot-4 and 234 pounds, has the overall size and physical upside to draw looks at multiple positions this spring and summer.

I caught up with Neputy at the fifth annual Franklin Dodgeball Madness Tournament at Franklin Middle School in Wheaton. Proceeds from the tournament benefited the school, the DuPage Hundred Club, Team Red, White and Blue and The Pat Tillman Foundation.

Watch the interview in the video above.