Sports

February 6, 2014

Bruins' Bowie going to Shorter; Mack will play for UTC

TUNNEL HILL — Shorter University’s football program made a late push for Northwest Whitfield High School’s Caleb Bowie. The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga all but locked up Bowie’s teammate, Isaiah Mack, well in advance of national signing day.

Both will get to live college football dreams they weren’t always sure would happen.

Bowie, a defensive end, will continue his football career in Rome after signing with Shorter, an NCAA Division II program. Mack, a defensive tackle, stood by his verbal commitment by signing with UTC, an NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision program. Both signed Wednesday as part of national signing day, the first day recruits across the country were officially able to secure futures with their NCAA program of choice.

Mack committed in December to UTC, but such commitments — and scholarship offers — are non-binding and Mack received heavy interest from other programs, including Football Bowl Subdivision schools Arkansas State (Sun Belt Conference) and Ohio’s Miami University (Mid-American Conference). While those programs offered the FBS pitch of playing in a bowl game, Mack saw a different perspective.

“At UTC, I can win a national championship,” Mack said in a nod toward the difficulty of such a feat at an FBS school not in one of the so-called power conferences. “People started asking why I’d go to an FCS school when I had the potential to go to an FBS school. They asked why I’d go to a smaller school when I could go to a bigger school, redshirt and probably start as a sophomore.”

Mack, a two-time Region 7-4A defensive player of the year, was named The Daily Citizen’s 2012 All-Area Football Player of the Year and made the all-area team again this season. He shined in the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Football Classic, tallying three tackles for loss and two sacks. The 6-foot-2, 260-pound lineman also played in the D.L. Scott Coalition Bowl last month in Atlanta and the Down Under Bowl last summer in Australia, where he earned MVP honors. He also made the Georgia Sports Writers Association’s Class 4A All-State Team as a first-teamer in 2013 after making the second team in 2012.

Mack finished his senior season with 121 tackles — 21 for a loss — along with 29 quarterback pressures, five forced fumbles and two sacks, helping the Bruins finish the regular season 9-2 and qualify for the state playoffs for the first time since 2009. In 2012, he finished with more than 150 tackles and led Northwest to a 6-4 finish — one win from reaching the postseason.

Despite all of his success, it wasn’t until the end of his junior season he saw a football future beyond high school.

“Before that, I thought I’d just be a regular kid,” Mack said. “I always wanted to play but never thought the hard work I put in would play off.”

Mack is part of a 19-player class that includes 12 with all-state recognitions and 10 with offers from FBS schools, according to a release posted on UTC’s athletic website (gomocs.com). In the release, Mocs coach Russ Huesman said the program sent 19 letters-of-intent and received 19 commitments.

UTC went 8-4 overall and 6-2 in Southern Conference play last season but missed the playoffs. The Mocs’ highest-profile game was on Nov. 23 as they lost 49-0 to Alabama, then the top-ranked team in the FBS.

“They are going to outrank a lot of Division I schools,” Northwest coach Josh Robinson said of UTC’s newest class. “And coaches said he has a chance to get on the field early.”

Bowie’s recruiting story is a little different. He talked with other programs, but Shorter was the only school “bringing anything to the table,” he said. Bowie received a partial athletic scholarship and also earned academic financial aid.

Because the Hawks were the only ones who showed heavy interest, that’s where the 6-2, 240-pound lineman wanted to go. Led by coach Phil Jones, Shorter and Bowie will try to improve on last season’s 2-9 overall record and 0-6 mark in Gulf South Conference play.

“I’ve been to a few other schools,” Bowie recalled, “but no one else asked me to visit. Shorter was the only one.”

Bowie said he “never really believed” playing at the next level was a possibility until Shorter offered the scholarship. He transferred from Dalton High School and was ineligible because of that during his sophomore season. As a senior, he tallied 80 tackles — 20 for loss — and had three sacks and as many quarterback pressures.

He was selected to The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Football Team this past season after earning honorable mention his junior year and also made the All-Region 7-4A Team as a senior.

Robinson said Shorter became extremely interested in Bowie within “the last three weeks.” With a 3-4 base defense, the Hawks’ coaching staff wanted a stronger defensive end, a bill the Bruin fits. Bowie is part of Shorter’s 14-player class of recruits for next season.

“He visited not this past weekend, but the weekend before,” Robinson said. “They offered him ... and he took about a week to think about it.”

It’s a chance Bowie didn’t expect but is glad to have.

“Coach Robinson asked me if I wanted to take the opportunity and whether I was interested,” Bowie said. “I love the game, so I figured I’d take it.”

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