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HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL 1985-86 : The Southern Section : A MATTER OF CHOICE : Football Filled His Future, but Todd Bowser Decided He Would Follow His Heart

Times Staff Writer

For the past month, Todd Bowser has lived the dream of nearly every high school football player.

College coaches called continuously and his mailbox was stuffed like a Thanksgiving Day turkey with letters from Division I schools beckoning him to the big time.

But bigger is not better to Bowser.

The 6-8 1/2, 265-pound Montclair Prep senior will play basketball at a college like Southwest Texas State or Montana State instead of football at Oklahoma, Georgia or his pick of the Pac-10.

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It seems that amid the madness of the Bowser beef stakes, no one asked Todd what he wanted.

“I love basketball to the point where I’ll sacrifice the big school and big crowds,” Bowser said. “I just tolerated football.”

He speaks of football in the past tense, even though Montclair is preparing for the second round of the Inland Conference playoffs. Bowser quit the team after injuring a shoulder in a game against Village Christian Oct. 19.

The injury, a severe bruise, has healed, and Bowser is practicing basketball full bore. He has probably worn football pads for the last time.

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“The thought gives me a sense of relief,” he said, sounding a studious tone from behind thick glasses. Bowser isn’t one to bellow.

An offensive tackle who played varsity for three years, Bowser was good enough to be picked as one of the best linemen in the nation by Dick Lascola, director of the Scouting Evaluation Assn., in his final report filed the week before Bowser was injured.

This will be Bowser’s fourth season of varsity basketball, but he does not have the speed or leaping ability to play basketball at a top Division I school, according to Montclair basketball Coach Howard Abrams.

“You’ve got to be a greyhound to play major college basketball,” Abrams said. “When God said, ‘Let’s make an offensive tackle,’ he made Todd.”

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Bowser is more like a Greyhound bus. He averaged 23.7 points and 15 rebounds in basketball last season, but rarely played against anyone who could match his size.

He wants to continue with basketball not because he believes it will lead to a professional career, but because he loves the game. He says he learned that achieving happiness is more important than meeting the expectations of others.

And he hopes everyone will understand.

“Todd is a 100% guy,” Montclair football Coach John Hazelton said. “He is not a noncommittal lug. I want to stress that to the utmost.”

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But when Bowser was hurt, teammates whispered that he exaggerated the severity of the injury so he wouldn’t have to play against a physical San Fernando team on October 25. Montclair lost to San Fernando, 47-7.

“A petition was circulated among the football players,” Montclair basketball Coach Howard Abrams said, “asking that if Todd returned to the team, his captaincy be removed.”

Said Hazelton: “Twenty-seven of the 30 players signed the petition. Our team is like a deep-hearted family and the players couldn’t deal with a member of the family not getting as fired up as they do. It broached on questioning his courage and that I am not comfortable with. How do you define courage? In his own way and manner, Todd has as much courage as anyone.”

Bowser’s voice drops to a near hush when he speaks of the ill feelings between himself and some members of the football team.

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“It hurts me to hear those things,” he said. “It’s my body. They don’t have to live with it, I do.

“I didn’t bust my butt in two-a-days to quit during the seventh week of the season.”

Said Hazelton: “You can’t fool kids. They don’t have a whole lot of compassion, though, and things were said and done that hurt Todd.

“Coaches are more tolerant of a person of small stature. A 5-7 defensive back or a little girl comes in the office and you can see the child in them. A guy that’s big and strong is supposed to be a man. Todd’s been made to be a man since the 9th grade when he came here at 6-5. He needs someone to put their arm around his shoulders--his waist in Todd’s case--and say, ‘what’s on your mind.’ ”

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In a two-hour meeting with Hazelton and Abrams on October 28, Bowser decided to forgo the remainder of the football season.

“I called the meeting,” Hazelton said. “The basketball coach wasn’t ready to confront Todd because he didn’t want to appear selfish. The kid felt pressure to play football from his parents, peers and college coaches. He was living a role and existence he didn’t want.

“So I told him in so many words to hang it up.”

Abrams believes that Bowser would have finished the football season had there been no petition.

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“He didn’t quit the team as much as the team quit him with that petition,” Abrams said. “I pushed for Todd to finish the football season. To quit in the middle, that was foreign to his nature.”

Once he learned of his teammates’ ill feelings, Bowser believed himself free of an obligation to them. While the Mounties were beating Bishop Union, 14-0, last Friday in the opening round of the Southern Section playoffs, he was boarding a plane for a basketball recruiting visit to Southwest Texas.

Bowser was replaced in the lineup by Chad Pasqua, a 6-4, 255-pound junior. “Chad is doing very well,” Hazelton said. “He is intense and gung-ho. The trade off was a fair one.”

While Bowser never was accused of a lack of intensity, he didn’t enjoy the contact so central to success in football.

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“I had to play tight end as a sophomore,” Bowser recalled. “I didn’t like going over the middle for passes. I’d rather stay home and block.”

A decision on which sport to pursue in college may have been made by Bowser during the summer. He attended a football camp at UC Berkeley and a basketball camp at UC Santa Barbara. It is no secret which he enjoyed more.

“That football camp was the low point of his career,” Abrams said. “Some big guy must have run up his back. He didn’t like the atmosphere or the people.”

Added Hazelton: “He learned from that camp that big time football was not something he wanted to be a part of. He didn’t like the one-on-one contact.”

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The basketball camp, by contrast, was a great experience for Bowser.

“I found out after one day that I was quicker than anyone my size,” Bowser said. “It was the first time I had gone up against a bunch of big players and I thrived on it. This 7-0 guy fly-swatted my first shot out of bounds. I’d never had a shot blocked before. So the next time, I gave the guy a head fake and he flew into the bleachers.”

Of 300 players at the camp, Bowser was selected by the staff as one of the top 50.

With football recruiters finally getting the message that he isn’t interested in blocking for Heisman Trophy candidates, Bowser’s mind is set on basketball.

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“We’re looking for a Southern Section championship,” he said. “I’m really excited about our team.” Montclair lost in the semifinals to Crossroads last season and had a 23-2 record.

Abrams figures any animosity toward Bowser will disappear as soon as the center sinks a few shots. “Everyone will be rooting for him,” the coach said.

Bowser hopes so, too.

“This has been a rough time. I hope there are no hard feelings,” he said.

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Perhaps the best indication that Bowser’s nature is more suited to basketball is his reaction when angry. He doesn’t give the door a forearm shiver to relieve his pent-up anger.

“I go in my backyard and shoot hoops for a while,” he said.


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