BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — John Cole has been on the coaching staff for Bridgeport’s football program the last 21 years.
Over that time, Cole, now in his second season as the Indians’ head coach, has seen his fair share of standout players and worked with a multitude of talented running backs.
Yet when Class AA No. 2 Bridgeport wraps up its regular season Friday at Lincoln, it’s likely Cole will watch Tribe senior tailback Jake Bowen become the school’s all-time leading rusher.
Bowen, a returning Class AA first-team all-state selection, needs 74 yards to set the school’s all-time rushing mark. The current record, which has stood since 1973, is held by Steve Stout, who amassed 3,724 career rushing yards.
“Jake’s one of these kids that has been invested and by that I mean you see him giving 100 percent in the off-season,” Cole said. “Right after football, he’s into basketball. After basketball, for the past three years that he’s been here, he’s in the weight room the next time that we lift. And he stays with us and conditions and does everything full speed.
“That work ethic has carried over to the practice field. He doesn’t miss practice. He’s on point during practice, so in other words, he doesn’t mess around. He leads the conditioning drills. Any conditiong drills, he’s up front.”
Bowen has a nice combination of speed and power that have helped to make him a nightmare for opposing defenses.
He’s been the team’s primary ball carrier since the start of the 2017 season. Last year, Bowen rushed for 1,916 yards and 26 touchdowns on 222 carries.
Bowen has gained 1,517 yards on the ground this season and could play up to five more games starting with Friday’s contest against the Cougars.
“All we need is the line to give me a little bit of a crease and if I can get to the secondary, I like to see one or two dudes that I can break a tackle or make a move on and when I see the open field, my eyes light up,” Bowen said.
Bowen is already Bridgeport’s all-time leading rusher in the modern era, a feat he accomplished during a 28-19 win at Keyser on Oct. 19.
“I’ve watched some of these guys that are playing in college now that have been here and played tailback like (current West Virginia linebacker) Dylan Tonkery and all those guys, and I always looked up to them,” Bowen said. “Coming in, I had no idea that I would end up being the all-time leading rusher. Now that I’m likely going to be the all-time leading rusher, it’s surreal almost.”
At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Bowen is physical enough to do damage between the tackles, but Cole believes his ability to frequently break long runs is what has him on the verge of being a record holder.
“With our offense, usually it’s time and possession,” Cole said of the Tribe’s run-oriented attack. “We want to grind the clock and we want long drives. The past two years, the linemen know if we can get him to the second level of that 3-to-4-yard mark, then it’s instant offense and a lot of the times he has the ability to break it.
“This year, he was asked to move up to fullback some. A couple of the long runs he had, one against Fairmont Senior and one against Keyser, he’s in the fullback position making guys miss. We were out-numbered up at Keyser and a guy came in and could have made the play, but he was a little off balance. Bad for him, because Jake just went through him and with one cut, he was off to the races.”
With 33 games under his belt at the varsity level, Bowen believes his experience has given him an edge this season.
“My field vision has gotten a lot better with experience and reps,” he said. “I can see the holes and cutback lanes much better than I have the past few years. I worked a lot on speed in the off-season, so I feel like I’m a little bit faster than I was last year. All of that hard work is paying off now.”
Bowen hopes to play college football and has already fielded offers from West Virginia State and Glenville State, along with talking to West Virginia, Marshall and Ohio.
In the meantime, he’ll soon be focused on trying to help the Indians make another postseason run after the team reached the Class AA semifinals a year ago.
Cole knows his days coaching Bowen are numbered and he’s cherishing the end of an already storied career.
“I can only wish him the best of luck,” Cole said. “He’s going to be a success with whatever he wants to do and puts his mind to.”