The Dallas Cowboys once had a special-teams standout named Bill Bates.
Former Greenbrier football player Ryan Bowers looks on as Greenbrier participates in a passing camp. Bowers, a Presbyterian College graduate, plays for the Indiana Firebirds of the Arena Football League.
Photo by Jonathan Heeter
In 1984, Bates was the first special-teams player to be named to the Pro Bowl, and he led the Cowboys coverage teams for 15 seasons.
Out of all the thousands of superstar players the NFL has seen, Ryan Bowers wants to emulate Bates.
"He was a great player and he always knew where to be on the field," Bowers said. "Playing special teams is an art and he was a playmaker."
Bowers, a 1998 graduate of Greenbrier High, hopes to make a similar impact in the NFL one day.
For now, Bowers plays safety and wide receiver for the Indiana Firebirds of the Arena Football League. He is one of two Columbia County residents playing professional football (the other is former Lakeside quarterback David Rivers, who plays in NFL Europe).
"My dream has always been to play in the NFL," Bowers said in a confident, but not cocky, tone. "But if I have to be the best player in the history of the AFL, then so be it."
Although he still has yet to reach his dream, the Greenbrier graduate has come along way since his days at the Brierpatch.
"I can't tell you how many times I had to chew him out," said Greenbrier football coach Mickey Derrick. "I don't know if I've ever seen a player improve so much."
Bowers played a little of everything in high school and is still the eighth leading receiver and 11th-leading rusher in school history.
In college, however, Bowers' football career skyrocketed.
Although he played on special teams as a freshman, Bowers applied a blue-collar work ethic in the off-season and began to excel during his sophomore season. He collected two interceptions in six starts and made a career-high 11 tackles in a 45-42 upset win over second-ranked Carson-Newman.
Between his sophomore and junior seasons, Bowers said the most important change of his life was his devotion to the church. "Giving my life to the Lord changed everything," Bowers said. "It gave me the incentive to work as hard as possible to reach my goal.
"Spreading the word of God and helping fellow players is my life. Making it to the NFL would give me a tremendous chance to mentor young players."
Bowers led the South Atlantic Conference with 21 pass defenses and had four interceptions in 2001.
During his senior season he again led the conference in pass defenses (21). His nine interceptions were the best in the conference and third highest in NCAA Division II. His 27.8 yard average for kick returns was ninth best in the nation.
After being named a second team All-American by Don Hansen's Football Gazette, Bowers was selected to play in the Division II All-Star game, the Cactus Bowl.
A number of pro scouts showed interest in Bowers, but he went undrafted in the 2002 NFL Draft.
He didn't rest for long.
The Cincinnati Swarm of Arena2 signed him and he made an immediate difference. Starting the final seven games, Bowers caught two touchdown passes and added another touchdown on an interception return.
"Playing with Cincinnati gave me an opportunity to show off my versatility on both sides of the ball," he said.
This year, Bowers moved up to the AFL with Indiana. He signed after the season started but still made an impact. His fourth-quarter interception helped the Firebirds knock off John Elway's Colorado Crush.
The Firebirds missed the playoffs, and Bowers headed back to the Columbia County area recently.
"I have been training hard lately," Bowers said. "I'm also putting together a tape to send to NFL teams."
The 23-year-old has also helped coach the Greenbrier receivers during the North Augusta passing camp sessions.
"He has been a tremendous help to our team," Derrick said. "He is teaching the wideouts to avoid getting jammed at the line of scrimmage."
Greenbrier assistant coach Rodney Holder added, "He is such a good kid, one of the ones you pull for to make it big."
In September, Bowers will head to New York to pursue a side-career in commercial acting.
"I'm very excited about the non-football opportunities I have, but I will drop those plans in a second if I get a chance with the league."
One of Bowers' possible NFL suitors could be the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jacksonville looked at Bowers extensively before the 2002 draft and considered looking at bringing him in for camp.
"The Jags will always be a team that I like because of the attention they gave me out of college," Bowers said. "They came out and watched me workout more than any other team."
By the way: The Jaguars special-teams coach is Bill Bates.
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