It's an annual rite of passage for players coming to the Minnesota Vikings being asked what they know about the state. The common response is to hear that they fear the cold.
Zack Bowman hasn't had to field that question for a simple reason: He's been through much worse.
Bowman had just started high school in South Carolina when his dad got a job transfer. A long-time member of the Air Force, the Bowmans were moving to another military base. It was nothing new. They had moved before. That's part of life in the military. But this career move stunned Bowman and, for a fleeting moment, he thought it might be the end of his football playing days.
"My dad was in the military and we moved there the second semester of my freshman year," Bowman said. "I didn't know what to expect. When he said we were moving to Alaska, I couldn't believe it. My first question to him was, ‘Do they even have football up there?' Once I got up there, it didn't take long to figure out that, with the exception of the cold, it wasn't all that different from anywhere else."
His acceptance of his new surroundings didn't come easily, however. Wanting to see what he was in for moving from the mid-Atlantic to the Pacific near the Arctic Circle, his first attempt to gain some information made him even more concerned.
"I got on-line and did a little research and that didn't help much," Bowman said. "I was looking for information on the high schools in Anchorage. I don't know what I Googled that got it to come up and it came up as ABC High School. I thought, ‘That can't be my high school. Fortunately, it wasn't."
Fortunately for Bowman and his family, Anchorage (like Minnesota) gets an exaggerated reputation for frigid temperatures. While it was a culture shock to be certain, it wasn't as bad as Bowman had feared or envisioned.
"It's a lot different from South Carolina, that's for sure, but it wasn't as bad as most people think," Bowman said. "We were right off the Pacific Ocean, so it doesn't get as cold there as it gets farther north. If you get up to Fairbanks and beyond, watch out. But it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. We had a lot worse days in Chicago as far as wind and cold goes."
Still, Bowman had fun with his friends he left behind in South Carolina. When he saw his first schedule for his football team, he thought there might be a misprint.
"We played football and basketball against a town called North Pole," Bowman said. "They really played up the whole Santa Claus and reindeer thing. It was cool to let my friends from back in South Carolina hear I was headed to North Pole to play a game. They thought it was crazy."
Although happy to learn that football was played in Alaska, Bowman wasn't confident that he would get the kind of recruiting in the Great White North that he would have in a football hotbed like South Carolina. Fortunately for him, he came to Bartlett High School, which already had a player that college coaches from the lower 48 were drooling over.
"When I was in high school, I played a guy named Tui Alaiefaleula," Bowman said. "He was big Samoan defensive lineman who was just a beast. A lot of schools sent people up to look at him because he was just terrorizing everybody. They came to watch him and I was out there with him and they noticed some of the things I was doing and that's was how I ended up at Nebraska."
Bowman doesn't make it back to Alaska much anymore, but said he wouldn't trade the experience for the world. He saw a different part of the earth by technically never leaving the United States and, while his visits have become less frequent in recent years, he's already looking forward to making a trip north next summer.
"It turned out to be a lot more fun that I thought it was going to be," Bowman said. "I made a lot of friends up there that I still keep in contact with. I don't get back up there much anymore because my family has moved on, but I'll be going up next year for my 10-year high school reunion and I'm really looking forward to that."
Bowman's signing by the Vikings marks the first time he has been with a new organization after spending his first four NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears. He is getting himself up to speed with the new terminology and schemes of the Vikings defense, but doesn't feel like a fish out of water at all with his new team. He's definitely been there and done that.
"The biggest thing is just learning the techniques and what they want me to do," Bowman said. "It's a pretty similar system to what we ran in Chicago. I played against a lot of these guys when I was in with the Bears, so there is a lot of familiarity. It's a transition I need to make and one I'm looking forward to. I've made bigger moves before, so it isn't anything I can't handle."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Bowman knows cold, life adjustments
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