DADE CITY — Bowman Archibald knew he was in trouble the moment he saw his coach’s face.
Archibald had skipped almost every offseason workout since his freshman year ended at Pasco, and Pirates coach Tom McHugh wasn’t happy about it. McHugh rose from his chair as soon as Archibald walked through the door.
“Oh crap,” Archibald thought.
Of the many steps Archibald needed in his five-year path from football rookie to Miami-bound tight end — generous genetics, a fortuitous injury and a failed attempt at replacing a record-breaking quarterback — none were more important than the rant that flew at Archibald next.
“That one talk,” Archibald said, “kind of changed everything.”
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Archibald got into football late.
Even though Archibald towered at 6 feet in sixth grade, his mother’s fear of injuries forced him to focus on becoming a cleanup hitter. By the time she finally let him play football in seventh grade, she wondered aloud to coach Danny Wade about whether Archibald’s delayed start would hurt his potential.
“He just looked at Bowman and said, 'No, he’ll be good,’ ” said his mother, Lisa McCabe.
Archibald started at tight end before trying quarterback when the Pirates showed up to a 7-on-7 session without a passer. The nephew of former Pasco quarterback Mark McCabe won the starting JV job as a freshman, and his size and arm strength made him a contender to replace current Gator walk-on Jacob Guy for the 2012 season.
But Archibald got sick at the end of spring practice. He suffered through the final warmup and threw an interception on his only pass in the spring game.
“If I had just put a yard more on it, it would have been money,” Archibald said.
Even though Archibald lost the starting job, McHugh saw his potential.
Archibald had sprouted to almost 6 feet 2 with a 170-pound frame ready to fill out. He had a quarterback’s knowledge of the game. He was quiet, bright and coachable, and he never talked back.
“I think sometimes as a coach, if you do this for 20 years, you can see that one has the opportunity,” McHugh said. “He had the possibility.”
McHugh wanted to bring him up varsity. Archibald wanted to quit. He spent more time working than working out.
So when Archibald made a rare appearance in the locker room for offseason conditioning, McHugh saw his opportunity. He called Archibald outside, and then he let him have it. McHugh screamed and poked his finger into Archibald’s chest.
Archibald had the ability to succeed. He had the grades. He had the size. Why didn’t he have the work ethic? Why was he willing to throw away so much untapped potential?
“It was just what Bowman needed,” his mom said.
McHugh told Archibald that he could play major college football, but only if he worked hard enough. Archibald listened.
“That’s when I really got serious,” Archibald said.
Archibald put more time and effort into agility training and weightlifting. He cut soda, white flour and sweet tea out of his diet and added protein shakes to bulk up.
And when he landed hard on his shoulder as a sophomore on the JV team, his time at quarterback was over — sending him back to tight end for good.
“Maybe it’s karma,” McHugh said.
Archibald has continued to ramp up his training. He lifts weights for two periods a day at school — then heads to Anytime Fitness to add in cardio or agility. He watches film online with his mom after every game.
As Archibald fell in love with the contact of being a tight end/linebacker, recruiters fell in love with a 6-5, 240-pound grinder that covers 40 yards in less than 4.7 seconds.
After only one full season of varsity football, the four-star recruit landed offers from the likes of Florida, Alabama and Oregon before committing to Miami last month. He has jumped to No. 180 among ESPN’s top talents in the country.
And Archibald credits it all to the tirade from two years ago that changed his life.
“I always liked football,” Archibald said. “After that, I loved football.”
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.