LAKE FOREST – Replacing the greatest cornerback in Bears history is no easy task.
But Zach Bowman has dealt with bigger challenges.
Picture this: You’re a teenager. You’re a great athlete and you have a lot of friends. One day, your dad (an Air Force master sergeant) comes home from work and wants to talk.
This is a dad thing, right? Dads like to talk about things.
Cut the lawn. Cut your hair. Cut it out.
Except this talk was different.
The Bowmans of South Carolina were moving to Alaska.
Bowman discussed his unusual path to the NFL after Friday’s practice at Halas Hall.
Musick: A lot of Bears fans might not know that you lived in Anchorage. What was that like?
Bowman: It was different. Coming from South Carolina – that’s where I’m originally from – and going to Alaska, you’ve kind of got this process in your head that it’s just snow up there and it’s igloos and penguins and polar bears. I wasn’t too thrilled when my dad came home and told us we were moving to Alaska.
But we ended up going up there, and when I got up there, of course it was snowing. But it was a lot different. There were buildings and it was city-like, and my high school was cool. So, I liked it.
Musick: How old were you when you made the move?
Bowman: Second semester of my freshman year.
Musick: Could you see Russia from your house?
Bowman: (Smiles) You couldn’t see it from my house. You had to go more toward the bay, and it had to be like a clear day, and you could see it.
Musick: Were you already into football before you moved?
Bowman: Yeah. I’ve been playing football since the fourth grade, and then it was just one of those things. I got up there and I was the new guy, so basically nobody knew if I could play. Once they saw me play in the gym one time – we were just playing pickup ball – they were like, ‘Hey, this kid’s good.’ So, I didn’t even play JV, I played varsity all three years, and I played varsity [as a freshman] in South Carolina, too.
Musick: And in Alaska, you were high school basketball teammates with Mario Chalmers?
Bowman: Mm hmm.
Musick: Did you ever think he might become an NCAA and NBA champ?
Bowman: Yeah, I did. You could see it when we were in high school. He had a nice jump shot, had good ball skills, had good vision on the court. His big thing was defense, so obviously he was a good defender. Yeah, you could definitely see it.
Musick: How did it work on the team? Was he the point guard and you the shooting guard?
Bowman: I was the ‘3’ my first few years, and then my senior year I got moved to the ‘4’ because we didn’t have the height. Our tallest guy was like 6-5. We were more like running guys. We had nothing but speed on the court.
Everybody could shoot, everybody could lay it up, everybody could dribble. Our coach just sat back and watched us play.
Musick: Do you still have any mementos from your state basketball title?
Bowman: I do, I do. Matter of fact, I’ve still got the tape from the [state championship] game. It’s good to go back and watch every now and then.
Musick: OK, quick detour back to football. On a scale of 1 to 10, how popular is football in Alaska?
Bowman: It was very popular. They just don’t get a lot of pub up there. Basketball is a popular sport, too, they just don’t get a lot of pub from anybody, so it’s hard for a lot of those kids to get recognized. But there are guys who do come out playing basketball and football.
Musick: So when you take on Baltimore this weekend, will you have some friends in Alaska getting up to watch the 9 a.m. kickoff?
Bowman: Yeah, man. A lot of my friends watch it. They always send me text messages and stuff like that, so I know that those guys are watching.