Thomasville Times Enterprise

December 12, 2013

Nose for the football

Jamie Wachter

THOMASVILLE — Playing with a fearless aggressiveness, Jay Bowdry definitely had a nose for the football.

The Thomasville High School junior safety not only led the Bulldogs in tackles in 2013, but he also had a knack for getting the ball back for the THS offense.

“The one thing that Jay possesses is an extreme ability to close on the football, to be around it,” Thomasville coach Leroy Ryals said about the 2013 Times-Enterprise All-Area Defensive Player of the Year. “He's a really aggressive player and he enjoys playing, defense or offense or on special teams.”

It is definitely hard to argue with Bowdry's numbers. A defensive leader, Bowdry racked up 100 tackles to lead Thomasville despite missing one game — against Berrien — and being limited in countless others due to injuries. But in addition to those stops, Bowdry also forced two fumbles, recovered three more and picked off two passes. And once he had the ball in his hands, the 6-foot, 180-pounder showed why he also returned kicks and saw spot duty at wide receiver, returning those two interceptions for 125 yards and one touchdown.

“I just wanted the seniors to end their season good, and I was going to do whatever I could to help them get that,” Bowdry said.

So, what was the key in Bowdry achieving that as the Bulldogs finished 8-4 and in the second round of the Class AA playoffs? According to Ryals, it starts with his aggressive nature, one that actually toes the line of being too fearless.

“He's almost too aggressive and it kind of hurt you sometimes, but that's what you want,” he said.

But Bowdry's impact on the Bulldog defense, one that allowed just 19.3 points per game a year after giving up the same 19.3 points an outing during a 3-7 season but allowed just seven points in the three wins against overmatched Stewart County, Berrien and Pelham, and 186 in the other seven games, was more than just finding a way to make a play. Rather, Bowdry was leaned on to help others make plays, too. In Thomasville's system, the safeties are essentially asked to be the defensive counterpart to the quarterback.

“When we play our base back there, they make a lot of the calls and a lot of the decisions,” Ryals said. “They are kind of like an extra coach on the field.”

The Bulldogs, though, had to defeat the Rebels and bounce back from their lone Region 1-AA loss without that coach on the field. Late in the 30-23 loss at Brooks County, Bowdry had to be helped off the field with a dislocated hip. Al-though he was back at practice the following week, he wasn't available for the Berrien game.

“I knew I just had to bounce back and do what I could to help my team,” he said.

He certainly did that as the Bulldogs won five straight before falling 38-20 to top-ranked Lamar County, which is playing for the state championship this weekend. Once again, Bowdry was limited against the Trojans, injuring his back in pregame warmups, but played through the pain. While not his usual dominant self, Bowdry still managed 10 tackles against Lamar's wing-T rushing attack.

Again, Bowdry's nose for the football speaks for itself. And it was that ability that helped spark that defensive turnaround as well. While playing safety, with Bowdry's aggressiveness and ability to find the football, he essentially became an extra linebacker.

“The safeties are very important in that they can give you an eight-man front by being that eighth guy up on the line, helping out in the run,” Ryals added. “The teams in our region, they do a really good job of blocking seven of them, so that eighth guy is a very important person. And we try to scheme it up to where he was that eighth person, and he's the one that's going to make the play if everything works right.”

If everything works right for the Bulldogs, Bowdry will be right back there next year making more plays, and with an extra year of offseason work, be even better.

“Hopefully, he can stay healthy. He was banged up all year long,” Ryals said. “Hopefully, he can get healthy in the offseason and have a big senior season.”