Bowers Earns Rare Double Delight

EUGENE, OR - Ross Bowers had been in the pressure chamber before - literally. A two-minute drill that puts top quarterbacks to the ultimate test, Bowers, from Bothell, Wash., was one of seven quarterbacks put in the chamber during the Oakland Elite 11 Regional.

The goal? A spot in the coveted Elite 11, the top prep quarterback skills camp every summer, led by former Super Bowl MVP Trent Dilfer. Dilfer, who has now run the camp for four years, had seen the 6-foot-2, 185-pound Bowers before and had put him on the Elite 11 War Room ‘Big Board', a list of those quarterbacks that had impressed Dilfer and his staff at one or more of the regionals, but hadn't - for whatever reason - earned an invitation to the finals.

"(Bowers) was very good in Oakland," Dilfer told Sunday at the Eugene Nike Training Camp, the same camp that gave prep quarterbacks one last shot to get in front of the Elite 11 Camp Director in the hopes of influencing a possible invitation.

"Some of the other guys were a little better and some of the other guys had a little bit more momentum going in - whether it was because of film or I had seen them other times."

Bowers was one of a handful of very good high school quarterbacks that did not get invitations that mid-May afternoon. It was a stacked field, one the Elite 11 staff was so blown away by they gave four camp invitations out, to Brian Lewerke of Arizona and Brady White, Travis Waller, Sam Darnold of California.

"The west coast is the best region by far," Dilfer said. "Everybody has been knocking the '15 class; I'm not. I think the '15 class has the best group of natural passers I've seen in four years. It's just that some of them are 6-1, some of them are skinny. They don't fit what everyone traditionally has looked for. But as we've gone through the process the west coast has probably the most diverse group."

Unfortunately for Bowers, it appeared as if his shot in Oakland was going to be his last chance to change Dilfer's mind. Then, just three days ago, Bowers found out Dilfer would be in Oregon for the Nike Football Training Camp.

He seized the opportunity.

"There's kids I test, and they know that," said Dilfer after the camp. "There's kids I want to see…it's really easy to be a great competitor once or twice, but can you do it a third time when you've been beat down and told no? That was really the conversation we had about Ross after Oakland."

Dilfer's strategy was simple: if Bowers came back beaten and downtrodden, that told Dilfer he's not as fierce as he thought. If Ross came back full of energy and showed great leadership traits and was positive, that's exactly what Dilfer wanted to see.

"He exceeded every expectation," Dilfer said of Bowers shortly after announcing Ross as the 16th invite to the 2014 Elite 11. At the same time, Dilfer also announced Bowers' invitation to The Opening, an elite 7-on-7 competition held every summer at the Nike Headquarters in Beaverton.

As it was in Oakland, Bowers competed like crazy in Eugene and then let his performance dictate the story. He waited patiently while Dilfer talked to the camp.

"I've already been through it once in Oakland," Bowers said afterward. "I was sitting in basically the same spot and heard (Dilfer) not call my name. I was kind of preparing for both. When he said my name, it was probably the greatest feeling. It was just like winning a football game. There's no greater feeling."

Bowers will get a chance to put his name next to Matt Tuiasosopo, Jake Locker, Jake Heaps, Jeff Lindquist, and Max Browne as Washington-based prep quarterbacks named to the Elite 11.

"Everyone always overlooks Washington," said Bowers. "It's a very quarterback-rich state. We've had two No. 1 quarterbacks in the last five years, starting with (Jake) Heaps to (Max) Browne. Now you've got Rypien, who is a top-5, and you've got me added in there and (Jacob) Eason as well. That's a pretty solid group for a state that's supposed to be not that great at football. Maybe it isn't the best competition across the board, but we have some players - and it's fun to be an ambassador for Washington and try and put them on the map."

Bowers was the beneficiary of some intense scouting by Dilfer and his Elite 11 staff. They checked his film, watched him in person, studied him intently. Then they went back again.

"I think the biggest thing that I've learned doing this for four years, it's unfair to stamp a kid on a ranking - whether it be a star or whatever - after January or February of his sophomore year," Dilfer said. "They change so much.

"You take their game film and you take their highlight film and let's say there's 50 kids around the country. As we go through the process what we're seeing is that the actual product - the combination of film and on-field evaluation - isn't always matching up with what the recruiting services are saying, because it started to soon.

"With Ross, it's a perfect example. He didn't come in with a lot of hype, really good film, but the momentum never really got started for him. So what did he do? He got in the car and went everywhere and said I'm going to show. He picked out the biggest, baddest dude in every camp and whooped ‘em down.

"Over time you take notice of that stuff and you start to say to yourself - there's nothing this kid can't do."

When you start to put the pieces of the puzzle together, it's not that surprising to see Bowers #keepclimbing, as the Elite 11 Twitter hashtag goes. The son of coaches - Bowers' mother is Washington Gymnastics Coach Joanne Bowers - he had been groomed from an early age to compete and remain confident in all conditions.

"We control what we control," said an ecstatic Tracy Ford, one of the trainers that has been helping Bowers along the way. "That's it. We work."

To put Bowers' accomplishment in perspective, it helps to go back to when he was a ninth-grader. Ross happened to be watching television with his father John, and they tuned into the Elite 11. This was the year Jameis Winston was competing, as well as local boy Jeff Lindquist from Mercer Island.

Bowers turned to his father. "I guarantee you I get into that one day," Ross recalled. "I thought it was the coolest thing ever."

Later that year he happened to be in California, throwing at a camp in front of Matt Tuiasosopo's older brother Marques, and UCLA Offensive Coordinator Noel Mazzone. At the same camp he happened to work with a QB coach from Arizona named Dennis Gile. Bowers and Gile hit it off and continued to work off and on.

This past spring break, Gile invited Bowers to California to work out. It was in the Bay Area, and the school they were throwing at just happened to be connected to Trent Dilfer. His daughters went there. So Dilfer came down and watched the workout. Gile, by that time, had taken a spot on Dilfer's Elite 11 coaching roster.

The pieces of the puzzle were starting to fit.

Push up to this past Wednesday. Bowers was running late and had raced to Ford's gym for a quick lift. He had just found out about Dilfer's expected appearance in Eugene and told Ford about it.

"I'm telling you," Ford said. "They are looking for that diamond in the rough."

Bowers likes the diamond metaphor, especially when it relates back to the pressure chamber. "High pressure - diamonds are formed," he'd say.

Flash forward to Sunday, and Bowers owned the field next to Autzen Stadium at the University of Oregon. And it wasn't a small group either; nearly 70 quarterbacks were trying to catch Dilfer's attention, including USC commit Ricky Town, Boise State commit Brett Rypien, 2016 standout K.J. Costello, and others.

"(Bowers) is what I'm looking for in the fiercest of fierce competitors," Dilfer said. "Nothing bothers this kid, and he's going to go there and face the giants and be fine.

"Ross has tremendous twitch to his body. He can challenge the entire field with his arm. He plays bigger than he is when you watch the tape

"The ball did not hit the ground until the quarterbacks moved to one-on-ones. "Of all the throws he made today, there may have been two that didn't finish exactly where he was looking. He was the leader of all the quarterbacks. He was firing up the receivers. He was goofing around with the coaches. He's just a kid that just brings a certain - I try not to ever use this word, but swag - to the situation. That's going to go a long way for him."

Bowers pointed back to that fateful day in Oakland, a day that could have buried him in the eyes of Dilfer, but in the end it exposed his character and nature as a player worthy of the Elite 11 label.

"It drove me," he said of the California disappointment. "I was crushed, but the next day I was hungrier. It's all paid off. You never think negatively. This is a dream come true. I've relied on a lot of people to help me put those pieces together, and I credit guys like Tracy, but most importantly my Mom and my Dad and (Bothell) coach (Tom) Bainter…the people that really, really matter to me in my life."

Bowers said that Colorado State is probably his top college choice right now after having spent some time in Fort Collins last weekend.

"I loved it," he said of his time at CSU. "Their staff is top-notch. It's just a great place to be. I'd say that's my number-one."

He also acknowledged that, after this past weekend, all bets are off. Even Wake Forest, who wanted Bowers to make an early commitment, has tried to come back on him - but that's not going to happen. In fact, it's safe to say that he may have to start his recruiting process from scratch after Sunday - because trips to the Elite 11 and The Opening are genuine game-changers.

In fact, the other school Bowers just visited - the Colorado Buffaloes - extended an offer right after the Sunday camp.

"This is life-changing," Bowers said, matter-of-factly. "There's not a better feeling."

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