By Dave Morrison
Can Wyoming East running back Caleb Bower reach the numbers he put up last season in what ended in the junior in a first-team all-state selection?
It’s an interesting question.
The simple answer is he can. The way he goes about it may be a little different though.
Last season Bower rushed for 2,034 yards, a school record.
There are substantial differences this season, the biggest being the loss of four starters from an offensive line led by first-team all-state tackle Tanner Jenkins.
The second is working against his own success. If people didn’t key on him after a 1,290 yard sophomore season, they most certainly will after last year’s numbers, in which he increased his touchdowns from 12 to 26.
And that goes hand in hand with this: Wyoming East lost quarterback Seth Ross and two outstanding receivers in Jake Bishop and Caden Lookabill as well as third-leading receiver McQuade Canada to graduation. Teams couldn’t necessarily put eight or nine men in the box to stop the run or they would get burned by the pass. Ross ended the season a record-setter in his own right with Bishop, Lookabill and Canada combining for 75 percent of the the completions by Ross.
Replacing some of those lost receptions is the way that Bower can reach last year’s total yards.
He hasn’t been much of a factor in the pass game in the past because it wasn;t needed and wasn’t really effective.
Last year he had nine receptions for 70 yards, but four catches for 78 yards came Week 7 against Man, 54 coming on a trick-play pass from McQuade Canada for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Coming into that game he had five receptions for minus-8 yards. After the Man came he didn’t catch another pass.
Then again, why would a team waste time with screens and short passes when he had the end of the season he had on the ground.
His final three regular games were a season alone.
He had 268 yards and four touchdowns against PikeView, a school-record 388 yards and four touchdowns against Independence and 301 yards and four touchdowns against Liberty. All told he had 75 carries, 957 yards and 12 touchdowns on that regular season-ending run. When you average 13 yards a carry why change what you are doing?
This year, that will change and Bower fully embraces it.
“I want to be close to 2,000 yards again this year, but I also want to have a lot of receiving yards too,” Bower said.
“The thing about Caleb is, he is a physical runner but man, when he gets in space, he is dangerous and that’s what we are going to do,” coach Jimmy Adkins said. “We are going to try to get the ball in 22’s (Bower’s jersey number) hands.”
While 92.3 percent of Bower’s touches and total yards during his career have come via the run, it’s not like he can’t catch. Consider that he had 19 catches for 145 yards as a sophomore and he has 37 career receptions for 278 yards. The key will be, as Adkins said, getting him in space.
And that will be a big boost to new quarterback Brandon Simpson, who will be the first to say his own strength is in the run game.
Bower is also the strongest player on his team, likely among the strongest for his size and position in the state.
Bower maxed out recently at 415 on the bench, 400 squat, 450 deadlift and 185 military press.
A video was recently tweeted of Bower doing five reps at 315 on the bench.
“Caleb is just a freak athlete,” Adkins said. “You don’t get many of him coming around.”
Bower said he spent the time out of school during the pandemic “running, lifting weights and doing the stuff that I normally would do.”
“He’s going to have a big year for us,” Adkins said.
With a little help from the short passing game, you can expect Bower to approach the 2,104 total yards he totaled last season.