Bowden family celebrates two football championships on same day

Mike Lee
Special to the Bulletin
China Spring quarterback Major Bowden jumps over a defender during a 2021 football game.

The Bowden boys experienced a day in football on Dec. 17, 2021, that most players could only dream about.

On the afternoon of Dec. 17 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Major Bowden quarterbacked the China Spring Cougars to the UIL Class 4A Division II state championship. For his performance in Ching Spring’s 31-7 win over Gilmer, Major was selected as the Offensive MVP of the state championship game after rushing 34 times for 191 yards and three touchdowns.

Major, who stands 5-feet-9 and weighs 175 pounds, also finished 8-of-11 passing for 28 yards. Basically, though, the Cougars lined up and ran the football straight at Gilmer’s defense.

On the evening of Dec. 17 at Canton, Ohio, Tommy Bowden made seven tackles, broke up a pass and returned two kickoffs for 43 yards as a starting safety for Mary Hardin-Baylor in its 57-24 win over North Central (Illinois) in the NCAA Division III national championship game.

China Spring finished 16-0, including postseason wins over tradition-rich programs from Carthage, West Orange-Stark, Cuero and Gilmer.

Tommy Bowden played some at quarterback, but eventually became a starting safety for Mary Hardin-Baylor’s NCAA Division III national championship football team during the 2021 fall season.

Mary Hardin-Baylor, located in Belton, finished 15-0 this past fall. The Crusaders claimed a 20-0 record during the 2021 calendar year since the American Southwest Conference played an abbreviated five-game spring schedule to compensate for not playing at all in the fall of 2020 because of COVID.

The immediate family all attended Major’s game mainly because Brad Bowden, the players’ dad, is assistant head coach and offensive line coach for China Spring. Since both championship games were played on the same day, geography dictated that the family make the 110-mile drive to Major’s game in Arlington instead of the 1,200-mile trip to Ohio for Tommy’s game.

“I walked off the field at AT&T Stadium with Major, and we immediately started trying to watch Tommy’s game on our phones,” Brad Bowden said. “I couldn’t watch much of it because my phone was blowing up with text messages from everybody congratulating us on winning state.

“But we got home, and we had recorded both games. I sat down and watched our (China Spring) game. Then I watched Tommy’s game. Then I watched both games again. I think I watched both games five times during the holidays.”

The Bowdens have multiple connections around the area. Tommy, now a junior at Mary Hardin-Baylor, is a 2019 graduate of Brownwood High School. As a senior during the 2018 football season, Tommy was selected as the district Offensive MVP after passing for 2,264 yards and 16 touchdowns and rushing for 761 yards and 15 TDs. Tommy also was a state qualifier in track.

Major attended Brownwood schools through his freshman season.

Brad Bowden served two stints as an assistant coach at Brownwood before leaving for China Spring in 2019. Brad also was head coach at Grape Creek from 2007-2009 and Early from 2010-2012.

Brad grew up in San Saba, and his parents, Tom and Elaine Bowden, still live there.

Tommy and Major’s mother, Jennifer (Head) Bowden, grew up in Goldthwaite and most of her family is still there. Her brother, Jeffrey Head, is the Goldthwaite boys basketball coach.

Brad Bowden wanted to make it clear that his family’s move from Brownwood to China Spring after Major’s freshman year had nothing to do with being unhappy. Brad’s most recent stint an assistant coach at Brownwood was under three head coaches in Chuck Howard, Kyle Maxfield and Sammy Burnett.

“A lot of people assume I was mad or unhappy at Brownwood, but that was not the case,” Brad said. “Brownwood was like home to our family. I was expecting to retire there.

“But China Spring called, and I said I’d listen. I went and visited China Spring, and it was just a good situation and the best opportunity for my kids.”

Last week, Major was selected by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football as Mr. Texas Football High School Player of the Year for 2021. Major rushed for 1,866 yards and 23 touchdowns this past season, plus he completed 67% of his passes for 1,432 yards and 27 TDs.

Brad said the seeds for China Spring’s state championship were planted in 2020 when the Cougars finished third in their district but advanced to the state quarterfinals, upsetting state-ranked powers West Orange-Stark and Sealy before falling to eventual state winner Carthage.

“I think because of the success we had last year, we started this year playing at a high level immediately,” Brad said. “We kept getting better and our confidence level continued to grow. We started fast in every game, and that seemed to demoralize the other teams.

“To be honest, we were more nervous before some of our district games this year than we were in the playoffs. By the time we got to Carthage in the third round, we were very confident. Once we beat Carthage, we knew there wouldn’t be another team that was tougher. We knew we had a good chance to win state if we just finished the job.”

Meanwhile, Tommy Bowden experienced a much different journey to being the starting safety on Mary Hardin-Baylor’s D-III national championship team. In the Crusaders’ five springtime games, Tommy started three times and played in all five games at quarterback. He rushed for 253 yards and five touchdowns, and he passed for 287 yards and five TDs.

Tommy began last fall at quarterback, but during the season, the Crusaders eventually went with transfer Kyle King at QB. The Crusaders’ coaches thought enough of Tommy’s athleticism at 6-foot and 200 pounds to ask him to move to safety.

“Tommy hadn’t played safety since his freshman year in high school,” Brad said. “I remember when Tommy was in the seventh grade having a talk with him about not worrying about what position he played, just play wherever you can help the team.”

Brad had that talk again with Tommy last fall prior to his move from quarterback to safety.

“He started out as a third-team safety, but he was the starter by the time the playoffs started,” Brad said. “He could have been mad or upset about not playing quarterback, but he turned it into a positive. It was a lot of fun watching him play defense again.”

The move worked well for Mary Hardin-Baylor. Tommy earned a starting position at safety and plans to play there again next season. King passed for 2,682 yards and 35 touchdowns as the Crusaders won their second national title.

While Tommy plans to play safety again next season for Mary Hardin-Baylor, Major has committed to play college football at Lamar in Beaumont. He was recruited as a running back and inside receiver.

Mike Lee writes a weekly high school football column for the USA Today Network's Texas newspapers. Contact him at michaellee7@att.net.