COAL TOWNSHIP — He was right where he wanted to be: Starting at quarterback for Shamokin Area, as a sophomore. It’s what he had done growing up, for the Shamokin Youth Football League.
Collin Bowers is also the Indians’ quarterback this season, as a senior. However, the journey from point A to point B was full of challenges and, yes, doubts.
Yet, for the 6-foot, 175-pound Bowers, it was a journey that has likely defined him as an athlete.
Three seasons ago, when the Indians were en route to another one-win season and a constant shuffling of quarterbacks, Bowers was promoted to first-team quarterback. Like several others before and after, Bowers was eventually demoted, and found himself watching in frustration from the bench.
Bowers abandoned the sport he dearly loved and did not play football last season.
But he still loved the sport.
“I was missing it a little bit,” Bowers said this week. “That’s what influenced me to come out this year.”
Not only did Bowers come out this season, as a senior, he won a preseason competition for the job and has been a big part of a Shamokin turnaround.
Bowers has completed 48 of 73 passes for 677 yards and six touchdowns, with just one interception and the Indians, at 4-3 overall, 3-1 in the Pennsylvania Heartland Conference Division I, have won as many games already this season than they did the previous three years combined.
He has also rushed for 218 yards and five TDs and returned two interceptions for TDs from his safety spot.
Rather than feel sorry for himself about the way things had gone for him, Bowers worked to improve his passing while building strength and speed.
“I came in confident, and I told myself I was going to win the job,” he said.
“I just kept telling myself I was going to get it done,” he said of his approach to a new season with a new coaching staff, led by former New York Giants fullback Henry Hynoski.
With his season going well and the team sitting in first place in the PHAC-I and likely headed for the District 4 Class AAAA playoffs, Bowers said, “I love it. I couldn’t have made a better choice to come back out. It was probably one of the best choices I ever made.”
Hynoski made a good choice, too, when he decided to head to the high school gym with the idea of recruiting some of the basketball players to join his team. That’s where he had an eye-opening experience that led to his choice for a quarterback to lead his first team.
Hynoski recalled that Shamokin teacher Dave Zielinskie, a former Indians coach, told him about Bowers, and suggested he might be interested in returning to the program.
“I had a ball with me and I gave it to Collin. When I saw him throw for the first time I was like ‘holy smokes, we’ve gotta get him,” Hynoski said this week.
As he watched Bowers in throwing sessions this past summer, the excitement kept building.
“If he keeps going and progressing…he already is a good quarterback, but he could be great,” Hynoski said.
Bowers would like to play college football but thinks having just one year to prove himself could dim his chances.
But Hynoski said, “I’m sure he’ll have an opportunity and I’m definitely going to bat for him and speaking on his behalf. I do believe he can play at the next level.”
Hynoski wasn’t around when Bowers lost the job and eventually gave up on the sport, but, he said, “One thing you can’t teach is talent. You can develop it and that’s the one thing we saw right away collectively as a coaching staff — this kid had talent. It’s up to us to figure out different ways on how to keep him protected and ways to give him the opportunity to have the ball in his hands when he plays,” Hynoski said.
“Obviously, you can’t bypass his arm strength. The kid has an absolute cannon. But it’s also his presence. He just has that presence, that X factor. When the ball’s in his hands, anything can happen,” the coach said.
“You see the plays he makes scrambling and on designed runs, he really is a true dual -threat quarterback. He’s so smooth. You watch him run sprints, we do line-touch drills and he’s just a smooth athlete.”
While calling Bowers a great competitor, Hynoski noted that his quarterback’s biggest downfall is that he cares so much about winning that he gets down on himself.
“But whatever he’s doing, it’s working. It’s paying off,” Hynoski said.
Bowers said he didn’t attend any off-season camps, just worked on his throwing mostly on his own, but also worked in the weight room with new strength and conditioning coach Tony Scicchitano.
“This year I came back bigger and stronger,” he said. “Tony Shic helped a lot in the off-season.”
“Everything is slowed down now. My sophomore year, I wasn’t grown into what I am now, and I play a completely different way than I did then,” said Bowers, who also plays basketball and baseball for Shamokin.
And he is more than just a leader on offense.
“Look at the way he plays safety, too,” Hynoski said. “You can’t keep him off the field. You don’t normally want your quarterback playing both ways, but my goodness, he’s a tough kid.”
Hynoski said, “He loves to play football and I asked him about (only playing offense) in the beginning of the season and he said, ‘oh, no; I’m playing safety.’ I was like ‘alright, you just made it easy on me because I wanted it that way and you confirmed it for us.’ “
Hynoski said, “The only thing I’m not going to do is put him on special teams.”
Bowers said that playing defense helps him as a quarterback.
“I don’t have time to think. If I come off the field and I made a mistake, I don’t have time to sit there and think about it. I’m not saying that I would, but I’m not taking that chance. I’m staying out there playing and hitting people and just playing in the moment,” he said.
As a quarterback, Bowers also makes the opposing defenses think, trying to determine where he is going with the ball and what he will do with it.
“I like to run and throw. I like to be able to run if there’s pressure or throw if I have time and I find that is hard for defenses top stop. Being a dual threat is hard for them.”
Like his own career, the Indians have seen ups and downs this season. The Indians were routed by defending PIAA Class AA champion Southern Columbia but rebounded with what many thought was an upset win over Lewisburg. The next week, the Indians were throttled by Jersey Shore, but bounced back again last week with a mercy-rule win at Selinsgrove.
“We made a lot of progress and we play more as a team now than when we started. We were feeling each other out and feeling the coaches out and now everything is starting to click on all cylinders,” Bowers said.
Bowers said he believes the team was too confident at Jersey Shore after the Lewisburg win.
“We might have come into the Jersey Shore game with our heads up in the clouds because of the way the Lewisburg game went, and after that our coaches brought us down to earth and we knew we needed to pick it up. “
That is what he and his teammates plan to continue to do with three games (and counting?) left in Bowers’ final season.