• By Thomas Mims, Sport Writer

Woodford coach brings worldly experience to his quarterbacks

Playing football at the collegiate and professional levels can take you far from home. George Bowen knows that better than anyone. The 2013 Woodford County High School graduate’s life since his playing days in the black and gold ended might be best summed up in one song lyric “I’ve been everywhere, man.” Bowen ended his time with the Yellow Jackets as a member of the 2012 football team that finished 4-6 under then-Coach Steve Stonebraker. A backup most of his Woodford County career, the Yellow Jacket quarterback started his post-high school journey at the University of Pikeville. What he didn’t know then was that his time there would be the first stop of several that would see him land over 5,000 miles from home in Belgrade, Serbia. After arriving at Pike-ville, Bowen says he had a growth spurt that added over three inches to his height, a crucial physical development for any quarterback. He then transferred to a junior college in Mississippi, where he spent less than a week. “They have weird out-of-state scholarship rules there,” Bowen explains, “I tore my ACL on a Thursday and they sent me home on Monday.” Undeterred, Bowen then transferred to a junior college in California where he received his associate degree at Mount San Antonio College before crossing the country once again, this time landing at Livingstone College in North Carolina. Ultimately, Bowen says, it was a tryout for the Canadian Football League that propelled him towards a professional career in Europe. “I didn’t have much tape because I’d only played one full year in high school and one full year in college,” Bowen says, “They said ‘Go to Europe or try to play arena league or something.’” That’s just what Bowen did, his game tapes eventually landing him an offer from the Belgrade Blue Dragons. The club, established in 2003, has gone through several coaching changes since Bowen’s first day with the team, including a stretch where he called the offensive plays while also starting at quarterback. Americans are common in international football, but do not, and cannot, comprise the entire team. Bowen says that league rules mandated that Serbian teams only carry three Americans per roster, leading to some strange teammate bonds being forged. His roommate played collegiately for Wake Forest, but the team’s long snapper was a 33-year old local who simply loved the foreign game. While American players were paid and housed solely for their play, local players would be given housing and a spot on the team with an extra job to go along with football. Bowen notes that it’s a system somewhat similar to the way scholarship players and walk-ons are handled in American colleges and universities. On a day-to-day basis, Bowen says he and his teammates mostly communicated in English as a standardized language. Most of his European teammates were fluent enough for the sake of play calls and huddles, but those who weren’t could easily have the messaged relayed by a teammate that spoke multiple languages. A bigger obstacle for team communication was not the language, but the volume. “Sometimes we would be playing in stadiums that were so quiet, coach told me I had to be quiet in the huddle because the other team might hear me,” Bowen remembers. This wasn’t always the case, though. Other times, the Blue Dragons would play in front of several thousand fans in stadiums designed for professional soccer matches. Much like European soccer, there was an international cup as well as a league championship for the Serbian league. This meant playing teams from Germany, Austria, Italy and other countries. With Bowen as the signal caller, the team enjoyed moderate success, losing in the semifinals in both the Serbian and international tournaments this past season, his second abroad. For now, Bowen is home as the Woodford County High School quartback coach. While in college and during his time home from Serbia, Bowen says he regularly would take advantage of the WCHS weight room to maintain conditioning. WCHS Coach Dennis Johnson noticed that dedication and Bowen says the two became fast friends prior to Bowen joining the coaching staff. “The biggest thing is George’s work ethic,” Johnson says. “He’s in here like twice a day working out … I know my kids have benefitted from seeing him around and putting the work in.” It’s not just the work ethic that has made Bowen such a positive fit for the team though, says Johnson. His youth helps as well. “He’s a young enough mind, you know, sometimes they think we’re old and don’t know things and are out of touch. He’s still playing. He’s a professional. So he can give them insight and they actually listen. He’s definitely been a positive for us.” For a Woodford County team relying on good decision-making and solid play from sophomore quarterback Bryce Patterson, Johnson hopes that Bowen’s leadership will help his young QB both on and off the field. Bowen does too. “As much as I love the on the field stuff, I enjoy all the off the field stuff too,” Bowen says. “When you see a young kid that has no clue that he doesn’t even know something, and then you help him a little bit and see that he finally ‘gets it’ … I’ve enjoyed that more than anything.” What far-off destinations Bowen’s football journey may lead him next remains to be seen. He says he’s already looked at possible XFL tryout dates as a way to continue playing, this time much closer to home. If things don’t work out as a professional, he’ll take comfort in the fact that he has given all he has to the game he loves so much. “I’m in the situation where if someone who knows what they’re talking about says that I’m not good enough, then I’m okay,” he says. “I’ve given everything to the game. I don’t know many people that would be willing to go to Serbia to keep playing.”

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