It’s Tony time for the Bowie football team.
Senior Tony James has made his presence known on the Volunteers’ offense in a variety of ways since his sophomore season. But now he’s the starting quarterback and unquestioned leader of a Bowie offense that’s looking to vault the Vols back to the top of the district standings after late-season struggles derailed a promising 2013 campaign. Bowie opens the regular season Aug. 29 at Wilemon Field against Dallas Jesuit.
“Last year, I felt like we should have had a good year,” James said. “I’ve never lost three games straight. I feel like coming into this year, we’re the underdogs now. … I still feel like we’re going to finish No. 1 in the district and go deep in the playoffs.”
As a junior, James shared the quarterback duties with then-senior Keaton Perry and also shined at wide receiver, helping lead the Vols to a 7-1 start.
But things went south when James and Perry both went down with injuries. The team dropped its final two district games to crosstown rivals Arlington and Martin. Normally a powerhouse that plays into late November or early December, Bowie had its season end in the bi-district playoffs at the hands of Southlake Carroll.
James, his teammates and second-year coach Danny DeArman enter this season feeling like they have a lot to prove. “We’ve got a shot,” DeArman said. “We’ve got the kids. Obviously, you can’t do anything about the injuries. You can’t do anything about two QBs who go down in one game. ... We feel like we’ve got a chance to shock the world.”
What might shock opponents is how physical the Bowie offense has a chance to be. The line is big and should be able to open running lanes. James expects to run a lot of read-option plays. Bowie also plans to run some out of a pistol formation, in which running backs are lined up in the backfield on either side of the quarterback.
In other words, Bowie, known for its big-play passing game in past seasons, is prepared to pound the football. DeArman envisions a physical offense and a hard-hitting defense that flocks to the football “like BBs to a magnet.”
James is excited to get the ground game going, but he cautions opponents not to assume Bowie will play one style of football. “We’re going to the run game a lot, but we still have the receivers we can push it to and quarterbacks who can throw,” James said. “It’s going to be a lot of different stuff we’re going to throw out there.”
Three running backs — DeAndre Cook, Chris Gardner and Anthony Hawkins — figure to get plenty of carries. But expect James to keep the football on a lot of plays. A fleet-footed TCU recruit, James has the ability to blow by the defense on any carry. He averaged more than 8 yards per rush a season ago and scored on the ground six times.
But it would be a mistake to label James a running quarterback. His running ability complements a big arm and steady decision-making. He tossed 12 touchdowns with no interceptions as a junior. Keeping mistakes down remains a priority.
“This is my senior year,” James said. “I’ve got to lead my team. No matter if we’re up by 40 or down by 40, keep them up and make sure they’re giving their all and I am too. I’m going to try to limit my turnovers because turnovers will always kill you in games. I’m going to give it my all out there.”
Greg Peace, a senior cornerback who also has a chance to contribute at wide receiver, has noticed the strides James has made at quarterback. James came on the scene in 2012, stepping in as the starter when Perry was lost early in the season with a knee injury. He excelled as a runner but struggled at times in the passing game. Not anymore.
“He’s developed pretty well since his sophomore year,” Peace said. “Early on, his throwing wasn’t all there, but he could run it. Now, I’m seeing him look off defenders. He’s good.”
Senior free safety Niko Small, who is also committed to TCU, feels like James has developed from a great athlete who plays quarterback into a great quarterback. “He’s one of a kind,” Small said. “There’s not many people who can do what he does.”
And with a game on the line, Small said, in Tony they trust. “Anything we need from him, he’s always come through in the clutch.”