When I first reported on TheBootleg.com about any part of the 2004 recruiting class, I brought you the story of Alex Fletcher, the All-American center who committed just 24 hours after Signing Day 2003 to the Cardinal staff. As part of that story, I told you that Fletcher was already moving swiftly and vigorously into his new role of Stanford recruiter. One teaser tidbit in that article was mention of a monster pass-rushing defensive end from the South, who Fletcher had earmarked as a must-have player to come with him to Stanford in the fall of 2004.
That defensive end was none other than 6'3" 240-pound Chris Bowers of Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, Louisiana. If you don't know Bowers, he is one of the top defensive linemen in this junior class and has a legit chance at being a top 100 national player. If you don't know Evangel, it is a powerhouse program that is to the state of Louisiana what Parkview is to Georgia and De La Salle is to California. They have won back-to-back Louisiana Class 5A state championships and have placed in the top ten in the country in recent years' national high school rankings. And looking ahead at 2003, probably the biggest high school game of the entire year will come when Evangel and De La Salle face off in a cross-country battle. The game is tentatively scheduled to be broadcast on ESPN2.
But unlike "system" programs like De La Salle that are excellently coached with solid but unspectacular talent, Evangel is a hotbed of Louisiana premium prep talent. In this junior class alone you find Bowers, quarterback John David Booty (USC commit) and running back Jacob Hester (Texas commit). Last year produced elite safety Chad Johnson (Texas Tech) and top receiver Tristen Ross (Oklahoma). In the 2002 class you had top-flight cornerback Jonathan Wade (Tennessee), fleet receiver Thomas Bachman (Texas Tech), dominating defensive tackle Chase Pittman (Texas), sackmaster defensive end Reggie Banks (Arkansas) plus five other Division I signees. And of course you know the names of Josh Booty (LSU) and Brock Berlin (Florida then Miami), two of the best high school quarterbacks of the last decade.
Bowers is also unlike some of the junior recruits and their hype you are reading these days, with snippets of highlight plays that may forebode a standout senior season. No, Bowers has been a dominating defensive end since his sophomore year, when he recorded 25 quarterback sacks and earned the label of "The Sackman." His junior season he recorded an even 100 tackles, including 30 for losses and 18 sacks, with five pass deflections. He already owns the school's career record for TFL, and he still has one big season remaining. He has earned all-state honors twice and is ranked by one Louisiana prep guru as the #6 talent in the state in this class. Saving his best for last, Bowers recorded four sacks in a thrilling 34-27 win in the 2001 state championship against nationally ranked West Monroe. In a rematch this past fall for the state title with West Monroe, Bowers led a defensive shutout in a 35-4 pounding (the four points coming on safeties) with 10 tackles and a pair of sacks. He was named MVP of the State Championship game (photo right).
Oh, and in the 2002 title game, Bowers for the first time lined up at tight end to throw the opposing defensive for a loop. His senior year, there is an expectation that he will get a serious look at more reps at the position and carry his dominance to the offensive side of the ball.
With so much demonstrated performance at such a young age, it is no surprise that Bowers has a heaping pile of mail from colleges at home, including blanket interest from the SEC and Big XII. He told The Bootleg earlier in the winter that he was hearing the most from Colorado, Texas Tech, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama, plus increasing attention from Texas. He landed three very early offers from LSU, Colorado and Texas Tech and named for me his "dream list" of schools as Texas, Texas Tech and Colorado. He said that in determining his college choice, he wants to look at playing time, his major at the school, the coaches and the overall quality of the school.
The bad news is that he told me at that time that Stanford was "a longshot, but it's early." Hey, you get bad news all the time when you talk with recruits, and Stanford can't be high on the minds of every top kid in America. Even with a 3.79 core GPA like Bowers'.
So here is where the story gets interesting. Stanford wasn't on his list of schools from which he was receiving a lot of mail, and Stanford wasn't at the forefront of his mind, to say the least. But by mid-March, Bowers had made a 180º turn and named Stanford as one of his top four schools. His father Randy Bowers confirmed to me soon thereafter that his son had received a marked uptick in interest from Stanford just after I had talked with Chris, and that early conversations plus a perusal of the Stanford University website propelled the Cardinal to a very different strata in the young recruit's mind. Stanford now sits in his top four with Texas, Texas Tech and Colorado. The game is afoot, and you can credit Stanford assistant coach Wayne Moses for that turnaround. Moses is recruiting the state of Louisiana this year for the Cardinal.
One lesson learned there is that when I gather early recruiting information on kids like this, it may sometimes be too early and misrepresent Stanford's potential if they have not yet had a chance to make a big impression on a recruit. This appears to be such a case.
One important note on the admissions side of Stanford's recruiting equation is that Bowers has already taken the ACT his sophomore year. He scored a 19 and is unsure if he will retake the test. That retake would be a key detail to watch as we track the recruitment of this premier defensive end. If he opts for no retake, that's bad news for Stanford. But if he decides to bring up his score, that is a telltale sign of very sincere interest in the Cardinal.
It is also worth watching how Bowers may or may not be affected by his classmates at Evangel who have made headline-catching commitments to a pair of powerhouse programs. John David Booty (pictured left with Bowers) caught the nation's attention when he committed to USC, and Booty has already taken on a role for the Trojans much like Alex Fletcher has for the Card in calling up other recruits to bring them on board in their class. J.D. has a special connection with Bowers, though, as a teammate and someone who literally lives across the street. The two families have been longtime friends, as well. The pull of playing with perhaps the top QB in the country is very attractive, but Bowers is his own man and to date has not listed USC among his favorites. This despite contact from noted defensive line coach Ed Orgeron at USC, who has indicated that they would like to offer Bowers soon.
Just as Booty is atop the nation's prep lists at quarterback in this 2004 class, so too is Jacob Hester at fullback. He has been a standout running back and linebacker, with Emeka Nnoli-like numbers running the ball in 2002 and Michael Okwo-like numbers on defense in 2001. He just last week committed to the Longhorns and will also be a top 100 nationally rated recruit this year. Texas is one of Bowers' favorite schools, and Hester could be a key link for the 'Horns.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!