RB Tyler Bowden ends career with a pair of rushing records for two local teams

photo by: Shawn F. Linenberger/Carter Gaskins

In the top photo courtesy of Shawn F. Linenberger, Tonganoxie senior running back Tyler Bowden breaks on a run against Lansing on Nov. 6, 2020. In the bottom photo by Carter Gaskins, Bowden made a big run as a junior for Free State in a game against Wichita South on Nov. 1, 2019.

For as long as he can remember, Tyler Bowden has been told that he isn’t big enough.

But what he might lack in size with his 5-foot-8, 165-pound frame, the talented local running back makes up for in other ways. Bowden is faster than most players on the football field and can slip away from several tackle attempts.

It all helped Bowden prove doubters wrong in the end, as he broke a pair of rushing records at two different schools — Free State (2019) and Tonganoxie (2020) — across his final two high school campaigns.

“Everybody always tried to beat me up on my size,” Bowden said. “I guess you can use it as fire, but personally I wouldn’t want to be any bigger. Speed is key. You can’t hit what you can’t catch.”

Bowden finished his senior season with 2,583 rushing yards in 11 games, setting a new single-season rushing record during his lone year at Tonganoxie this fall. It came after Bowden already broke the same record at Free State with 1,855 rushing yards during his junior campaign.

While the criticism of his size might have motivated Bowden, his stature also played a part in what he was able to accomplish over the last two seasons. Bowden was able to hide behind blockers while waiting for the hole to open up, only to find a next gear when a running lane was made available.

Because he was never going to be the biggest guy on the field, Bowden chose to spend his free time working on his speed. He believes he can run a 4.4 40-yard dash. That was on display over his last two season, as Bowden was able to fly past defenders whenever they took a bad angle.

And, if he managed to break free, there was almost no way anybody could catch him.

“I get behind those big guys on the line and use them as a wall, and as soon as they open something up, you are gone,” Bowden said. “I’ve had guys tell me that (I’m) so hard to tackle because (I’m) so hard to find and low to the ground.”

Bowden originally emerged on the scene as a freshman during Free State’s quarterfinal matchup with Derby. Despite his 5-foot-6, 150-pound frame at the time, Bowden made a big impact in an eventual heartbreaking defeat.

Due to an injury to the starting running back, Bowden stepped in and carried the ball five times for 88 yards and two scores against Derby on Nov. 10, 2017. He came through with a game-tying 18-yard touchdown run late in regulation before FSHS ultimately suffered a 55-49 loss in overtime.

Yet that performance provided a glimpse of all that Bowden had to offer as a running back.

“I never thought I’d play as a freshman and then coach called me in and I was nervous,” Bowden said. “I was just a little kid out there. But it was really cool to have that opportunity.”

Bowden didn’t get a starting role until his junior campaign, but he certainly delivered when the opportunity finally arrived.

In 2019, Bowden finished with 26 rushing touchdowns on 195 carries while helping Free State to an 8-2 overall record. He broke Chuck Hunter’s single-season rushing record (2008; 1,707 yards) and set the single-season points record, which was previously held by Jax Dineen’s mark of 138 total points in 2017.

Bowden then transferred to Tonganoxie for his final prep season, though there was an adjustment since he only knew senior tight end Dallas Bond before moving there. It didn’t take long for Bowden to become familiar with Tonganoxie, which posted a 9-2 overall record and was considered one of the better squads in Class 4A all year.

“It was difficult at first because I only knew one guy,” Bowden said. “But everybody there was nice and accepting.”

It didn’t take long for the Chieftains to appreciate Bowden’s skill set either. He ran for 317 yards and five touchdowns on 32 carries in the season opener. Bowden had five different games with at least five rushing scores, including a seven-touchdown game against Southern Boone, on his way to a 37-touchdown season.

Bowden finished with 100 or more yards in all 11 outings, posting nine different performances with at least 200 yards. He ended up averaging 8.8 yards per carry on 294 total attempts, becoming the latest THS running back to post a record-breaking season.

In fact, four different Tonganoxie running backs have set single-season rushing records in the last four years. It was a stretch that started with Dalton Bock’s 1,441-yard campaign in 2017. Korbin Riedel ran for 1,531 yards in 2018, while Cooper Cunningham accumulated 2,124 rushing yards in 2019.

Bowden broke Cunningham’s record in a 48-28 win over Labette County on Oct. 30, when he finished with 202 rushing yards and three touchdowns on just eight carries. He merely added to the total over the final two games, which included a 30-7 loss to Bishop Miege in the Class 4A quarterfinals.

“It was pretty surreal to break two school records,” Bowden said. “I think I’m extremely fortunate and lucky to have that opportunity. It is kind of a rare deal. I’m flattered by it.”

Bowden credited all the different coaches for his success, dating back to his peewee football days when he was in the second grade. Bowden then played under both Bob Lisher and Kevin Stewart at Free State before learning from Tonganoxie head coach Al Troyer this past year.

But Bowden isn’t done yet. He hopes to keep playing the game he loves at the next level, as he continues to go through the recruiting process. Bowden, who has plenty of interest from local colleges at the Division II and NAIA level, ultimately hopes to have a decision for what is next by the winter.

“I’ve been talking to a few schools and trying to figure out what fits best,” Bowden said. “I’m trying to play all my cards and see what feels right.”

So when it is all said and done, Bowden could end up with two rushing records and a college scholarship. Not bad for someone who was supposedly too small to play the running back position.


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