COLUMN: Ex-Illini Bower a winner with Bobcats in return

By Troy Murray

While Illinois walked off the field looking frustrated and beaten after losing on a last-second field goal for the second straight game, the Ohio football team celebrated with its fans in the corner of Memorial Stadium.

Ohio stormed off the field, players smiling and laughing. The Bobcats’ marching band took the field minutes after the win and performed for what seemed like hours.

Ohio became the first MAC team to claim a victory over a Big Ten team this season and no one was happier than Bobcat transfer Brad Bower, who felt “right at home” in his first game in Champaign since he transferred two years ago.

“It’s a great feeling right now, you have no idea,” Bower said. “I have a bunch of people that came to see me play, friends and family, and it’s great. Just to get out there on the field for a couple of series and help contribute, there’s no better feeling.”

The Burr Ridge native was recruited by former Illini head coach Ron Turner, and was supposed to return the Illinois offense to glory and take the reigns when Jon Beutjer graduated.

Bower was a consensus All-State quarterback in high school, rewriting Hinsdale Central’s record books after throwing for 2,886 yards and 48 touchdowns in his senior season. After three years of starting for the Red Devils, Bower set 10 school records for both single-season and career passing.

Scouts.com ranked him in the top 25 at his position and his past further strengthened the Illini Nation’s confidence in him. This was a sure thing. Bower was the next Kurt Kittner. Bowl Championship Series here we come.

He declined to comment on the reason he left the University, but Ron Zook’s hiring two years ago is most likely the reason. Before Ron Turner was fired and Zook took his place, Bower was the top quarterback in town.

Beutjer and Bower battled for the job all season in 2004 and, by the end of the season, Bower won the job, receiving plenty of praise from Turner.

“He’s got a toughness about him,” Turner said of Bower in 2004. “He carries himself like you want a quarterback to carry himself. He’s definitely the fastest quarterback. He has good football speed. He has a really good quickness and good change of direction. It took him a while to learn what it takes to be a quarterback, what it takes to be a student of the game. He’s put in the time and he’s very confident.”

While Tim Brasic stayed in town, Bower packed up and transferred to Ohio when Zook was hired, realizing his best chance at playing time would be with a different school. Looking back at it, Bower made the right decision.

At Illinois, Bower would have been third string behind Juice and Brasic – Zook’s choice for the starting spot last year.

At Ohio, he’s second string, competing for playing time every Saturday with a quality senior quarterback in Austen Everson. Barring any drastic changes, he will be the Bobcats’ starter in his senior season next year.

Ohio head coach Frank Solich pointed out Bower’s success and hard work in practice the last two weeks as the reason he got those eight snaps.

Bower won’t admit it, saying he can’t pinpoint why his game has seen improvements in practice lately, but most likely it was because a game against his former team lay on the horizon.

Bower, who was known to be one of the more popular players when he was on the team, still stays in touch with most of the players and visited with them before and after the game.

He said trash talking from players such as junior linebacker J Leman and a few hard hits by some of his former teammates didn’t faze him, but it certainly seems like it would.

These were the guys who Bower spent three years with – the guys that made his decision to transfer that much harder.

They were the ones that made his first win at Memorial Stadium on Saturday that much better.

Troy Murray is a junior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]