Rock Bridge senior Brant Bowers recovers a loose ball

Rock Bridge senior Brant Bowers recovers a loose ball as Kickapoo senior Elijah Bridgers reaches for it during the Bruins’ 67-52 loss to the Chiefs in the Class 5 quarterfinals March 15 at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar. Bowers will play college basketball at Columbia College next fall.

On March 7, Brant Bowers’ standout Rock Bridge athletic career was minutes away from ending. The Bruins’ basketball team found itself down 12 points with 5:36 to go in the fourth quarter of the district championship against intracity rival Battle.

Bowers was scoreless. He had picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter and found himself on the bench while Rock Bridge’s lead turned into a double-digit deficit.

The color drained from Bowers’ face as the Bruins called timeout after Battle’s Maricus Grant hit a corner 3 to ignite the Spartans’ home crowd. For the first time in school history, it looked like Battle would finally get the best of Rock Bridge.

The Bruins’ best shooter was having one of the most disappointing games of his career in the year’s most important game. But the next 336 seconds turned into the most memorable moment of Rock Bridge’s season.

The first of his kind

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior is known for accomplishing something his coaches had never seen before — becoming a varsity starter in basketball, football and baseball.

Bowers didn’t just start, however: He became one of the most dependable players on the basketball court and football field. By the time he had completed his high school athletic career, he had received seven total college offers: three in football and four in basketball.

“I don’t know anybody else that’s that good at three sports,” sophomore Rock Bridge basketball player Hudson Dercher said. “It’s pretty crazy to see. First year playing football and he gets three offers? Like, wow. That is wild.”

Bowers began his athletic career at 6 years old. It was during the summer before third grade that he fell in love with basketball.

“I would always stay outside for hours at a time with my brother,” Bowers said. “My brother really pushed me to be good because he’s just like me; he doesn’t like losing. We would always be playing outside and there would be some pretty big fights. He pushed me really hard and made me really competitive.”

By the time Bowers reached high school, sports were his outlet.

“The summer before my junior year was really difficult because I was playing three sports at a time,” Bowers said. “So I would have football during the week, and then I’d have either a basketball tournament or baseball tournament on the weekend. I would still have basketball and baseball league games during the week, too. And that is when football is going two-a-days. It was like seven days a week.

Some days, I’d be playing three different sports.”

This eventually made Bowers make the tough decision to drop a sport. He did so because if he focused on two sports he could improve enough to play at the next level.

“At a young age, I thought for sure I’d be playing college baseball,” Bowers said. “But, by a couple of weeks into basketball season, I really knew that I was enjoying basketball more. I was getting good minutes and I really liked the environments of the basketball games more than baseball.”

After his junior season, Bowers put down his bat and glove.

From the diamond to the gridiron

Before his junior year at Rock Bridge, Bowers decided to play football. It began when the football coach, Van Vanatta, ran into Brant’s father, Kyle Bowers, and asked him why his son wasn’t playing football after learning Kyle had been a college football player himself. Then, things took off.

“Next thing you know, Brant was sitting in a (football) meeting,” Vanatta said. “I just told him, ‘Hey, we’d love to have you.’”

Vanatta wanted to try him out at receiver after watching him in basketball games get physical inside the paint and grab rebounds.

Bowers quickly became a starter.

“Usually you see (players) make a decision to bail out by their junior year,” Vanatta said.

Yet Bowers took on the challenge of learning plays, running routes and reading defenses.

“I’ve talked to him about it and it would be amazing to see how good he could have been if he had played for those few years (before),” Vanatta said. “It didn’t hurt him ... (but) if he’d have played all four years, I think he would have had some pretty good offers. I know there was some bigger schools that were looking at him, but of course, they never pulled the trigger because not of necessarily athletic ability, but more of the inexperience.”

As a starter, Bowers helped lead the Bruins during his junior year to the third round of the playoffs before ultimately falling to Blue Springs in the district championship.

“He didn’t drop balls,” Vanatta said. “Has he dropped the ball? Yeah. But the thing was, more times than not when the ball was thrown to Brant, he caught it. And you never worried about that. ”

That consistency, Vanatta thinks, has to do with Bowers’ experience in tough situations in a different number of sports.

“We focus too much on one sport,” Vanatta said. “I don’t think parents realize that if that’s something your child wants, the more (sports you play), the more opportunities and more doors that open. I watch guys recruit two-sport athletes.”

Bowers’ favorite game was against Smith-Cotton on Oct. 11, when he caught a touchdown pass from two-sport athlete and basketball teammate, Grant Hajicek, in the corner of the end zone. The Bruins won 48-21.

Though Bowers’ football ability intrigued recruiters, it was basketball where he really excelled.

Success on the hardwood

During his junior year, Bowers earned valuable minutes behind a squad of six seniors, who all went on to play collegiate sports. Coming off the bench, Bowers and teammates Dajuan Harris, Isiaih Mosley, Quinton Brown and Ja’Monta Black led Rock Bridge to the first state championship in school history.

“As a junior, he could have played for a lot of varsity teams or even started on a varsity team, but we’ve had two big senior classes,” Rock Bridge basketball assistant coach Blair Scanlon said. “Playing those guys every day in practice the last two or three years made Brant and other guys better.”

A year later, it was Bowers’ turn to lead the charge for the second class in a row with six seniors. Rock Bridge finished the season 24-4 with a trip to the state quarterfinals. The year was highlighted by a 21-game win streak and Rock Bridge’s fourth consecutive district title. Bowers averaged 12 points and 3.2 rebounds during his senior campaign.

“It’s a blessing to see Brant, a kid who played three sports and worked hard to put in the hours and have success at all three,” Scanlon said. “You don’t see it a lot. I mean, you rarely see kids play two sports nowadays, but to play three is very, very tough.”

Bowers was aggressive in the paint, grabbing contested rebounds. He was also one of the most dependable defensive players, always guarding one of the other teams’ best shooters.

“Brant is kind of a tough blue collar kid and he’s not going to be scared of you or anybody,” Scanlon said. “He’s going to get down and fight you and that’s the kind of guys that Rock Bridge has always kind of had. Blue collar tough. Do the dirty work and do your job. That’s awesome to have on your team.”

Becoming a Cougar

Columbia College agreed. COVID-19 restrictions didn’t allow for face-to-face visits, but Bowers talked with coach Tomas Brock on the phone after Rock Bridge completed its season. After a few conversations, Brant received a FaceTime call from Brock on March 23 with an offer to play basketball for the Cougars.

On April 1, he announced his commitment to Columbia College on Twitter.

Bowers will join Quinton Brown as the second Rock Bridge basketball player on the Cougars’ roster. The opportunity to play close to home was a big draw for Bowers — not to mention the program has made the NAIA National Tournament in eight of its last 10 seasons.

“It was a really big factor to be close to home,” Bowers said. “All of my family, both on my mom and dad’s side, have come to all my games since I was pretty little.”

Brock took over as coach for the Cougars at the beginning of the 2019-20 season after Bob Burchard spent 31 years at the helm. In his first season, Brock went 20-12 and advanced to the semifinals of the AMC Tournament.

“Coach Brock, who I think is really good, is a young coach, but I think he does a good job and he was an excellent player himself when he played,” Scanlon said. “I think he’ll like Brant’s toughness and work ethic, and definitely shooting ability.”

The Cougars attempted 823 from beyond the arc during Brock’s first year as coach, an increase from the 552 attempted 3s under Burchard in 2018-19.

“I’m just glad to have a 3-point shooting coach,” Bowers said.

From beyond the arc, the sharpshooter led the Bruins with 79 made 3s in just 28 games.

Back on March 7, that 3-point shooting ability turned out to be Rock Bridge’s season saving weapon.

336 seconds

For Rock Bridge to avoid losing to Battle for the first time in school history, it needed a miracle. The Bruins had just 29 points in the middle of the fourth quarter as they struggled to get any sort of rhythm going against a tough Spartan defense.

“During the start of the game their crowd was kind of giving me stuff because they all knew my name and so they were all yelling and heckling me, even in warmups,” Bowers said. “They were kind of in my head up until the game started. Getting in foul trouble early, that was really tough too. And then for a second I thought our season was over.”

But those 336 seconds still remained.

Bowers, with four fouls, checked into the game and quickly drilled a 3 from the corner. Seconds later, after a quick steal on the defensive end, the 6-foot-2 guard sunk another, this time from the wing. He had cut the lead in half in less than 30 seconds.

Then Xavier Sykes changed the game with a layup followed by a steal off of the inbounds pass, leading to an and-1 layup. The five-point swing brought the smaller, but still loud, Rock Bridge section to their feet. Ten points had been taken off the Battle lead as easily as they had been put up.

On the next possession, Bowers came down the court and established himself as the true hero of the game. The senior sharpshooter hit another 3 to give the Bruins a 47-46 lead with just 1:24 left. It was Rock Bridge’s first lead since the 6:41 mark in the third quarter.

Nonetheless, the game wasn’t over. Battle’s Zh’Vaughn Ward responded with a 3 of his own to put the Spartans back up with just under a minute left.

Bowers came down the court quickly, receiving a pass from Sykes and drilling another 3 from the wing. Seconds later, Bowers forced a steal on the defensive side and called timeout as he fought for possession of the ball with a Battle player on the hardwood. He had just made two of the biggest plays of his career in the closing moments of his final district championship game.

“He’ll do anything to win,” Dercher said. “He’s a competitor. You saw it in the Battle game. He was one of the guys that brought us together during the whole game. He was 100% confident we were going to win even when we were down by however many it was at the end.”

Bowers finished the game with 13 points. The Bruins won 52-49, outscoring the Spartans 24-8 in the final 5:36 of the game to keep their undefeated streak against Battle intact.

“The bigger the moment, the bigger the stage is (for Brant),” Scanlon said. “He likes those shots and it just takes one shot for him to get going. That was great for Brant as a senior to come through in the big moment.”

Bowers’ comeback was not lost on his teammates. The comeback signified the district championship, a win against a rival team they’d never lost to before.

“Oh God, I don’t even know how to explain that feeling I was having (after the comeback),” Dercher said. “It was so wild. I mean, especially because Battle and Rock Bridge is the biggest rivalry. It’s just crazy when you see a guy hit every shot in practice and then in a game it actually translates.”

Rock Bridge hasn’t lost to one of Battle, Hickman, Jefferson City or Helias Catholic since 2015.

“That means something to our guys to have that on the record,” Scanlon said. “Our guys really don’t want to relinquish that. It’s kind of a pride factor to be the top team around this area, which we have been for a lot of years. It was big for our guys. The name of the jersey means something to them.”

High school legacy

With his high school athletic career behind him, Bowers hopes there is one thing that is never forgotten. According to his coaches, there is a good chance it won’t be.

“My goal was to be a hard worker,” Bowers said. “I just hope people remember me by how hard I worked because nothing was easy playing three sports. But, really, it was just all hard work and dedication to each sport and giving each sport the same time as the others because I didn’t want to be just successful in just one. I wanted to try to be successful at all three.”

By starting in three varsity sports and obtaining seven college offers, it is clear Bowers worked hard.

“I’ve seen him in clutch situations make clutch catches on third down and long,” Vanatta said. “I’ve seen him in baseball, when at clutch times he has to put a bunt down, and he gets that bunt down. It was the same thing if you watched districts. I was at the district championship against Battle. The ball got his hands and boom, there it was.”

Between the three sports, Bowers won four district championships and one state title.

“He enjoyed the grind, and he enjoyed going to practice and being a part of a team and competing,” Vanatta said. “He loves to compete and that’s why wherever he chooses to go, they’re going to get a good one.

“He’s a good one because he’s not afraid of the grind. They’re going to get a good one because he loves to compete. And they going to get a good one because he’s got the ability to do other things. That’s what makes him such a good athlete.”

Columbia College got that good one.

  • Sports reporter, fall 2019. Studying sports journalism. Reach me at jdscrz@mail.missouri.edu, or 882-5700.

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