'I have a lot to prove': In-state target Jeff Bowie ready to match production with recruiting hype

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central

WEST BRANCH, Ia. — Inside small-town West Branch, where quaint shops and historical vibes pepper the central area, there isn’t much that moves quickly.

Well, football news does.

Jeff Bowie discovered that soon enough.

“I have a lot to prove now that everyone in the community has seen that I have all these offers,” the West Branch defensive end said, “… just coming out this year and not letting anyone down.”

Standing sturdily at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, Bowie is the latest elite talent in the Bears’ extensive line of football tradition. The 2021 prospect began the spring with minimal collegiate buzz. He exited with six Power Five offers, quality camp showings and a budding recruitment that could get intense as Bowie’s junior season moves along.

West Branch defensive end Jeff Bowie poses for a photo after a varsity football practice, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, at West Branch High School in West Branch, Iowa.

As of now, Iowa, Iowa State, Nebraska, Minnesota, Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt and Northern Illinois are the official players. Notre Dame, one of Bowie’s camp stops this summer, remains in contact as well. With a commitment likely not coming until season’s end, expect more heavy hitters to enter the Bowie sweepstakes.  

Adjusting to newfound hype comes in many forms. No longer a secret on the recruiting circuit or in his pigskin-crazed hometown, Bowie plans to push forward with a grounded approach.      

“Just trying to not let it get to my head,” he said. “Just keep working and doing what I did to get here in the first place. That’s what brought me all the attention I have now. If I don’t go away from that, nothing bad should happen. There are so many schools looking at me still that are just waiting to see how this year plays out.”

A simple QuikStats scan and perhaps’ Bowie’s rise comes as a surprise. As a sophomore on a squad loaded with veterans, Bowie racked up 31.5 tackles, 11.5 TFLs and seven sacks. Decent figures — but only the sack number was tops on the team.

Still, Bowie’s size, weight-room dedication and quickness propelled him onto collegiate radars before he even turned 16. Although Northern Illinois was the first Division I school to offer, Iowa State’s decision really kicked off this recruitment in riveting fashion. All six Power Five offers rolled in during a six-week span.

Opportunity to pair production with promise comes this season. Bowie is in control of Butch Pedersen’s defense, which gives the legendary Bears head coach plenty of versatility inside his scheme.

Class 1A offensive lines will offer up their best shot. Bowie should be ready to pounce.

“He’s hungrier now than he ever has been,” Pedersen said. “He can see where he could be if he continues to work and keeps getting after it. He has a lot offers — and he’s probably going to get more offers — but he still wants to get better each and every play.

“He’s a big-time player. Everyone knows it. And now, he has to go out on the field again and prove it each and every night. He’s going to be a marked target. There are going to be people going after him to see what he’s made of, and that’s what I cherish. I want that for him.”       

West Branch defensive end Jeff Bowie poses for a photo after a varsity football practice, Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, at West Branch High School in West Branch, Iowa.

Bowie’s run through the summer camp scene should only reinforce his arsenal as a defensive end. Throughout May and June, he made stops at Iowa State, Iowa, Nebraska and Notre Dame — as well as Rivals’ 3 Stripe Camp in St. Louis.

Bowie reported improved technique and confidence as the biggest takeaways from battling top offensive line prospects. It’s clear he made an impact at those stops.

“I liked Bowie’s punch, and he got off the line quickly,” Rivals’ Bryan Driskell wrote after Bowie’s performance at Notre Dame’s camp in mid-June. “He was one of the few ends who was able to do damage against the talented ends. He impressed me throughout the camp.”  

Out-of-state schools like Notre Dame and Nebraska — and whomever else wants to jump in — tout tons of historical prestige. But Bowie’s recruitment seems to carry an in-state feel for now.

He’s visited Ames and Iowa City multiple times, most recently attending the Hawkeye Tailgater at the end of July. Bowie said he’ll likely be at Iowa’s season-opener against Miami (Ohio) and that both the Hawkeyes and Cyclones are clamoring for numerous gameday visits this season.

“There are so many people in the community rooting for me to go to both (in-state) places — people I know, neighbors and things like that,” Bowie said. “I feel like it would just be hard because Iowa, it’s where you grow up and everything. Saying no to there and going somewhere out of state would definitely be hard.

“Pretty much everyone I know wants me to go to Iowa, because it’s so close. But no one’s really tried to push me to do anything. Everyone’s been supportive and told me to do what’s best for me. That says a lot.”       

It’s clear West Branch supports its own, particularly in the football realm. Now elevated to premier status, here comes Bowie’s chance to reciprocate the love.    

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.