Scouting the Bears
February 6, 2013
My mom was sold on coach Gary Barnett. And that meant she was sold on Northwestern.
Can you blame her? A free ride to an education along the shores of Lake Michigan? That's what mothers want when their sons are being recruited to play football.
Barnett told my parents and I that he would take the Wildcats to Pasadena during my official visit to Evanston in 1994. They were close. The program was growing. The losing would end. And the Rose Bowl was next.
Sure, Gary. Of course you will.
But I had different plans, different goals as a high school quarterback at Glenbard West. And my parents supported that decision.
I wanted to be a Hawkeye.
From the minute I stepped on campus at Iowa, I knew it was the place for me. Wear the black and gold, play in Kinnick Stadium and become part of the culture, the tradition in Iowa City.
A pure college town. A new home. And a new adventure.
I canceled the rest of my visits in the Big Ten and committed to coach Hayden Fry when he came to our house in a pair of cowboy boots that had Rose Bowl emblems stitched into the leather.
Sure, the recruiting game has changed for the Chicago-area high school seniors who will sign their letters of intent Wednesday. Cellphones, text messaging, Facebook and Twitter have altered the process since I went through it.
However, assistant coaches from big programs still pop up in the high school hallways or hang out in the physical education department trying to grab five minutes to sell their universities.
Iowa assistant Bobby Elliott even asked my date to prom for me. Why? Because he told me he could close deals. All part of the recruiting game.
So Elliott came to Glenbard West with white roses, a Big Ten championship ring and a request to pull a young lady out of class to pop the prom proposal during sixth period on a Tuesday.
She said yes — right there in the hallway.
I didn't have the high school news conference or sit at a table with multiple hats to make my decision in front of the student body or the guys down the street from Busy Bee barber shop on Main Street.
Instead, I signed mine at 8:03 a.m. at my parent's dining room table.
The same table I ate dinner at last Christmas when the family got together.
After I talked to Fry and Elliott on the phone, it was off to another day of high school and basketball practice.
But I dreamed big that day. Real big.
I want these kids signing on the dotted line Wednesday to do the same.
It's OK to have those dreams of playing in the Rose Bowl; the BCS title game or even winning a Heisman Trophy.
Hey, go for it.
Maybe it won't go exactly as they planned. I know it didn't for me. By the end of my freshman season, Iowa secondary coach Chuck Long asked me if I wanted to play on Sundays.
Of course I did. And to that he replied: "Well, it probably won't happen at quarterback."
I never threw a pass in a Big Ten game. Oh well, playing safety for the Hawkeyes and eventually in the NFL fit just fine.
As for Barnett, he was right. Northwestern won the Big Ten championship my freshman season and played USC in the Rose Bowl.
Do I regret the decision I made to pass on an opportunity to sign with Northwestern and play in Pasadena?
How could I when I still get the feeling of coming home once I cross the Mississippi River on I-80 and head west to Iowa City?
These young men will go through ups and downs the next four years, but they always will remember the day they signed those papers. And I hope they can fall in love with their schools like I did.
Special contributor Matt Bowen, who played at Glenbard West and Iowa, spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety.
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