Ready to Prove He Can Play

He's a 6-foot-5 pocket-passer who has bounced back from a senior-year shoulder injury -- and he's looking for an opportunity. Will John Bowenkamp land in your favorite team's training camp in 2007? Read more about him and the obstacles he's overcome as he continues to makes strides towards an NFL career.

It hasn't been an easy road for quarterback John Bowenkamp, but you wouldn't know it from talking to him. His upbeat, positive outlook is readily apparent when you talk to him. After spending just a few minutes talking with him, you can't help but ask why some NFL club isn't ringing his phone, ready at the very least to send him to NFL Europe. And as you get to know him, you quickly find yourself pulling for him to succeed.

Bowenkamp became a starter at  the University of North Dakota during his sophomore year. As he tells it, "I came in and we threw the ball around a lot that year, I had some pretty big games.  Then my junior year was probably my best year in college.  We went to the Division II National Championship game and we just had a phenomenal year, probably one of the best years in school history besides 2001 when we won the National Championship."

Yeah, he had some pretty big games. Bowenkamp set regular season records for passing yards (2,247) and completion percentage (65.1) his junior year. And his 20 touchdown passes were three short of the school record for a single season.

So he entered his senior year ready to put his skills and leadership ability on display for NFL scouts, but he tore his latissimus dorsi on his throwing side. He tried to play in the first game, but couldn't get anything on the ball, so he sat out for part of his final season in hopes that it would heal.

"I came back, but I wasn't really the same," he said. "I had basically lost all of the strength of my arm and it wasn't so much that I couldn't throw, I couldn't stop the momentum of my arm coming down. So it never really messed with my mechanics or the velocity I can put on the ball, it was all just stopping my arm coming down."

He finished what should have been his top season completing 40 of 88 passes for 407 yards, 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.

Despite the tough turn of events, the Vikings had seen enough of his potential to sign him as an undrafted free agent in 2005. And he got the opportunity to room with veteran quarterback Brad Johnson during training camp.

"I had an awesome time learning the offense and Brad took me under his wing," he said. "I still stay in contact with Brad, he's just a phenomenal guy and one of the smartest football minds out there as far as being a quarterback."

Following Minnesota's second preseason game, Bowenkamp was released as the Vikings trimmed their roster; a common fate for an undrafted free agent straight out of college. But Bowenkamp stayed in touch with Mike Tice, the head coach at that time in Minnesota.   

"They said they were going to allocate me to Europe at the end of the season," he said. "So I got ready for Europe and at the end of the season the entire coaching staff got fired."

It was one more bump in the road for Bowenkamp. But he just kept pushing forward. He signed as a free agent with the Rhine Fire in NFL Europe, but didn't get to see much playing time.

"I got put on a team with Drew Henson, who was allocated by the Cowboys, and Timmy Chang, who was allocated by the Eagles," he said. But the ever-positive Bowenkamp still saw the value of the experience and was proud of the fact that he had to beat out two other good quarterbacks to make the Fire's roster.

And NFL Europe is where Bowenkamp plans to be this spring. Because that's where he can get the game film that he can show to NFL teams to prove to them that he's fully healed from his injury and capable of running an NFL offense.

"That's where I am right now, I just hope I can get allocated and go back over to Europe because I know I can play and I feel like my body is finally at one hundred percent," he said. "It's back to where I can just throw all day and really cut it lose and it's feeling great.

"If I get the opportunity, I'm not going to be a guy who's going to blow it, I'm going to do everything I can to do my best."

Bowenkamp is hopeful that an NFL club will send him to Europe as an allocated player. When he was coming out of college, scouts from the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Detroit Lions, New York Giants, and the Vikings all showed interest in him. But most clubs he's had contact with as of late have said that they want to see some current tape on him.

"I need to play somewhere and get some tape at a higher level than Division II," he said. "So that's my goal this year is to go over to NFL Europe and get some tape just to prove that I can play. 

"I've been blessed with size. I'm 6-foot-5, I weigh about 225 and I'm a pocket-passer who can move around in the pocket. But if I have to I can run; I ran a 4.69 in college and I think with the pro scouts I ran a 4.74."

With the NFL's new rule that only requires teams to allocate five players instead of eight, the chances aren't as good for any player with NFL aspirations. But even if he has to head to Europe as a free agent, Bowenkamp sees the change to the system as a positive one for him.

"There could be a chance that there's a lot more free agents playing which would be good," he said. "I'm going to keep my options open and if I can get on a team no matter which way and compete for a spot, that's my goal.  

"If a team wants to allocate me, that's great; they can cut me the second I get back. I just want to go over there and compete and play.  I've stayed in contact with a couple coaches over there and I think they like me, they want me to come back so I'm looking forward to it."

Undeterred. Enthusiastic. Passionate. Take your pick. John Bowenkamp happens to be all three. He's not going to let any bumps in the road keep him from his final destination. He's ready to prove to the NFL that he can play.

"I'm a second-generation quarterback, my dad was a quarterback at University of Nebraska Omaha, and I've never played any other position my whole life," he said. "I absolutely love playing football, I love working out to play football. I love throwing the football, I love being a leader, I love knowing the ins and outs of an offense, and I just have a desire to play.

"Every level I've played at, when it was crunch time in a big game and you have to let yourself shine, I've just tried to keep that going. And God's blessed me and put me in the right opportunities. I'm just sitting back and wait and see what happens, because all I can do is stay in the best shape and hopefully get a call."

Keep your eye on John Bowenkamp. He's just a phone call away from playing for an NFL team in 2007.

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