MONTREAL — – John Bowman has never experienced free agency for a reason. He’s exactly where he wants to be.
Seven years into his CFL career spent entirely with the Alouettes, Bowman is never afraid to admit he’s made Montreal his second home. Now armed with a new three-year contract, the North Carolina native knows that’s not about to change.
“This new contract means peace of mind to me. I’ve been playing for seven years and I always told myself I wanted to play at least 10,” admitted Bowman.
“I feel honoured to be here with the tradition that we have in Montreal. When I think about AC, (Ben) Cahoon, (Bryan) Chiu, Anwar (Stewart), (Mike) Pringle – all great players that have been through here – and to maybe one day have my name mentioned with those guys would mean a lot to me.”
Second on the Alouettes all-time list with 60 sacks, six shy of his former teammate and close buddy Anwar Stewart (66), Bowman is already well on his way to securing his place in Als history. But that’s not what keeps him in the 514.
“The negotiations went great because I want to stay here, it’s as simple as that. I’ve never been a free agent and I intend to keep it that way,” vowed the 30-year-old.
“If someone offers you a fair contract but you could get a little more somewhere else, is it really worth it to leave? No, to me it isn’t. I’m in a city that I love with a bunch of great players and great people. The Alouettes are more of a family to me than anything else and that starts at the top with the Wetenhall family.”
GM Jim Popp is a key member of that Alouettes family who is no stranger to Bowman. After discovering the talented defensive end prior to the 2006 season, Popp has never hesitated to keep Bowman in the fold. The longtime Als architect also finds a way to restock his team’s cupboard every off-season.
“Jim Popp is a straight up “G” in my books,” praised a smiling Bowman. “He finds a way to keep us competitive and on top each and every year. The consistent thing about this franchise for the past 15 years is Jim Popp. He just finds players and keeps our team rolling. He started working that phone in the winter and now we’ve got Arland Bruce and Quinton Porter and he just kept going from there. He just stacks the deck every off-season.The bottom line is: Jim loves this team just like Mr. Wetenhall does,” professed Bowman.
“I’ve got be honest, I was scared Jim was heading to the NFL this off-season. Now I just hope the NFL leaves him alone for the next three years through the end my contract and I’ll be good!” A by-product of Bowman’s experience has been his emergence as a leader for the Als. After seeing Stewart anchor the team’s defensive corps over the years, Bowman has picked up where his close friend and mentor left off.
“A lot of the young guys come to me now with their questions about all kinds of stuff and I just try to help in any way I can,” he explained. “They ask me things about survival. That’s what professional football is: who’s going to be up to the challenge and stay on top the longest. I like sharing what I’ve learned and even showing guys around this great city. I’m growing into this new role and I’m really enjoying it so far.”
Bowman’s leadership knows no bounds. As a cornerstone of the Together at School Alouettes program – the team’s flagship community outreach initiative – he regularly impacts students in schools across Quebec.
“I’ve been doing the program for six years now and every year it’s grown and gotten better. I remember when I first started I was nervous and scared and it warms my heart to see how far I’ve come with my shyness and trouble I had talking in front of people,” recalled Bowman. “I remember how nervous I was about doing a school visit on my own and then having to talk about my story to the kids for an hour. Now it comes natural to me and it’s great to see the kids respond to our efforts.”
Bowman and a dozen of his teammates visit over a combined 120 schools per year, encouraging kids to stay in school and make the right decisions.
“What we try to do is send the message out to the youth that we care about them and we want them to do better and prove to them that if they work hard, they can make their dreams come true,” continued Bowman. “I’m proof of that and all of us in the program have our own stories to share.”
Bowman has seen first-hand what a difference giving children added support can make.
“I remember one time – but this happens a lot – when a group of kids we’d visited maybe five years ago came up to me and talked about the visit I’d made to their school,” he reminisced. “First of all I felt old, second of all it was great to hear how they were in CEGEP now and doing well in school and how that visit stuck with them. That’s all you can ask for and that’s what this program are all about.”
It also became about even more this year with the addition of a French language component to help the players better connect with the children. Even with his heavy southern accent in tow, Bowman is determined to add the language of his adopted home to his arsenal.“Oh man, French is a struggle but I’m hanging in there. All of us in the program are,” admitted Bowman.
“The conjugation of verbs and all those grammar rules are killers. And how things still sound so similar to me and the slightest roll of the tongue could mean a whole other word drives me crazy. Then you’ve got all those accents. It just takes some getting used to. I definitely want to learn the language and I’ll stick to it.”
In addition to forming even stronger bonds with the French students he meets, Bowman has also used his new-found skill in more ways than one.
“It feels good that I can go to a restaurant now anywhere in the city and order my food or get help in a store in French,” grinned Bowman. “I can’t have a full-blown conversation yet or anything, but I can understand it a lot more now. I just need to get better at being able to respond in French, but I’ll get there, don’t worry.”