TAMPA — One of the area’s most coveted juniors already has settled on his school. Shut down the speculation. Jesuit outside linebacker Troy Bowles’ pledge is solid, not subject to whims.
He’ll be a Tiger in 2022. Even if his dad — one of the NFL’s most respected defensive coordinators — were to land a head coaching job elsewhere in the offseason, Troy won’t move away from Tampa Bay.
“He’s going to be at Jesuit,” said Todd Bowles, whose current office is located seven-tenths of a mile from Troy’s school. “I would not do that to him.”
Now that the short-term future is settled, Troy and his family continue assessing the collegiate horizon, which appears every bit as luminous. A four-star force of nature for the 12-0 Tigers, Troy Isaiah Bowles (more on that name later) might be able to name his school by next summer, when he hopes to make a college decision.
“I think his better football is still ahead of him,” Jesuit coach Matt Thompson said.
“He can smell a ball,” Tigers veteran defensive coordinator Darrell Palmer added. “He can smell the ball when it’s coming out, and he’s always on the go.”
The middle child of Todd and Taneka Bowles’ three sons, Troy, 16, is ranked 42nd on the 247Sports composite list of the nation’s top recruits from the Class of 2023. Even at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Palmer said he could be the defense’s fastest player, though cornerback Andre Gilbert Jr. might edge him in a sprint.
“I played for the Redskins at 6-2, 205,” said Todd Bowles, the starting free safety for Washington in Super Bowl 22. “He’s bigger, he’s faster and he’s way more athletic than I ever was.”
In 11 games, Troy has totaled 80 tackles, seven quarterback hurries, an interception and five sacks, and has returned two blocked punts for touchdowns. His numbers would be further inflated if A) Jesuit’s last five games hadn’t gone to a running clock due to the state’s mercy rule, and B) Palmer was inclined to blitz him more.
Instead, he prefers dropping him into pass coverage.
“I truly try to keep him out in space because he’s so athletic,” Palmer said. “He’s great against the pass, great against the run in the open field, and certain blitzes — weakside blitzes that I get to utilize him for, being out in space.”
In a 42-0 embarrassment of rival Tampa Catholic in the regular-season finale, Troy blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown. In last Friday’s 49-9 romp of Bradenton Braden River in the Class 6A, Region 3 semifinals, he scooped a second-half fumble and returned it for a 10-yard touchdown, while recording six tackles in only one half.
All on a half-empty stomach. Troy shuns pregame meals, instead subsisting on ham and turkey sandwiches (with mayo, mustard and cheese, all on Hawaiian bread) prepared for him by Taneka.
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“I eat two of them during lunch, then I eat one for my pregame meal because I don’t like eating the pregame meal,” he said. “It hurts my stomach. During the game, I get like, bubble guts and I can’t really run. So I just eat one sandwich and that’s really it before the game.”
Yet his appetite for the sport itself seems embedded in his DNA.
Born in Dallas (while his dad was the Cowboys’ secondary coach), Troy’s initials roughly spell out the name of the Sidney Poitier character (Virgil Tibbs) in the 1967 Academy Award-winning film In the Heat of the Night.
Poitier (one of Todd Bowles’ favorite actors) portrays a black Philadelphia police detective, initially suspected of murder in a small Mississippi town, who ultimately is asked to help in the investigation.
“I call him, ‘Mr. Tibbs,’ so Isaiah came about just because I wanted his nickname to be with an ‘I,’” Todd Bowles said. “That’s kind of where my thinking was at at the time.”
Troy’s parents first put him in flag football around kindergarten. From there, he typically played in higher age groups to be with older brother Todd Jr., himself a Jesuit graduate and freshman defensive back at Rutgers.
“I knew he was ready because in flag football he was tackling,” Todd Bowles said. “So I had to put him in pads just to make sure he wouldn’t hurt himself.”
The nomadic lifestyle of an NFL coach resulted in the Bowles kids — including 11-year-old Tyson — acclimating themselves to new teammates every few years. Bowles has lived in Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, Arizona, New Jersey (while dad served as the Jets’ head coach from 2015-18), Maryland and Tampa.
“It’s not tough anymore, but it was when I was younger,” said Troy, who wears the same jersey number (23) his dad wore as a pro. “Just meeting new friends every couple of places you go. I didn’t want to move here at first, I wanted to stay in New Jersey. It wasn’t my decision obviously.”
But the next one will be. Florida, FSU and Miami remain in the mix. So do Ohio State and Michigan. Georgia also is among Troy’s current favorites, as are Oregon and Penn State.
For now, he’s focused on the program to which he’s committed through all of 2022. Jesuit, ranked No. 12 nationally by MaxPreps, is three victories from its first state title since 1968.
“Troy, if he has questions, he’ll ask me at home,” said Todd Bowles, who watches film of the upcoming opponent once a week with his son. “I don’t bother him. They do a great job over there teaching him life skills and football. It’s great that he’s over there; I think Coach Thompson does a heck of a job.”
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.
Region football finals
Games 7:30 p.m. Friday
2A: Northside Christian at Naples First Baptist
2A: Zephyrhills Christian at Orlando Christian Prep
3A: Clearwater Central Catholic at Berkeley Prep
4A: Clewiston at Lakewood
5A: Sebring at Clearwater
6A: Hillsborough at Jesuit
7A: Wharton at Tampa Bay Tech