For former Greenbrier High School star Ryan Bowers, life as a football player has never been easy.
"The first time I put football pads on in third grade, I hated it," Bowers said. "I wanted to quit."
Fortunately, Bowers' parents made him stick with the game. It all paid off Jan. 2, when Bowers, after years of bouncing around in arena football leagues, signed with the Atlanta Falcons.
"It's one of those things where you just work and believe," Bowers said. "I can do anything the Lord wants me to do."
The Falcons, in need of safeties, got a look at Bowers during a workout for the Arena Football League's Georgia Force last fall. After signing with Atlanta, Bowers said, his first season of football will begin this March in NFL Europe.
"They haven't told me exactly where I'll be going yet," he said. "It looks like it may be Frankfurt or Cologne."
Bower's assignment to NFL Europe is part of the NFL's Allocation Program designed to allow up to six members from each NFL team to play a 10-game season in NFL Europe.
The promotion to the NFL ranks comes after a long, hard road for Bowers, who still lives in Evans. The 1999 Greenbrier graduate said his prep career under head coach Mickey Derrick taught him several important lessons he's already used later in life.
"I remember I had an end-zone celebration when I scored a touchdown against Lakeside in a jamboree my senior year," Bowers said. "We butted heads on that."
Derrick also remembers the play.
"I kind of chewed his behind out because of that," the coach said. "He came off the field, and I told him next time we'd try it without the offensive linemen."
Bowers said he's thankful for the discipline he received not only at Greenbrier but also at the next level at Presbyterian College.
After a successful college career, Bowers saw time with the Arena Football League's Indiana Firebirds and the Grand Rapids Rampage and with arenafootball2's Green Bay Blizzard.
The star defender and special teams player battled back from a hip flexor injury and was headed to the AFL's Orlando Predators when he got the call from the Falcons.
Before he leaves for NFL Europe, Bowers said, his family already has plenty of reasons to celebrate. His brother, Jeff Bowers, recently began a career in real estate, and Ryan soon will finish his degree that he failed to complete at Presbyterian College.
"Those two things have been big for my family," Ryan Bowers said. "I'm proud of my brother, and I wanted to finish what I started. Getting an education should be extremely important to any young athlete."
Bowers will report to the Falcons at the end of January before beginning his NFL Europe assignment in March.
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