By Jeffery Armstrong
North Clayton High football players Dirk Engram and Anthony Bowden are good friends off the football field and have some things in common on the field. The two seniors are versatile players who can suit up for more than one position for a team. During their college scholarship signing ceremony Wednesday afternoon at their high school, both said they are prepared to play wherever it takes to make their new teams' roster.
Engram, who signed to play wide receiver for the University of North Carolina, said he's especially ready to play for his new team in Chapel Hill. The 2004 News-Daily Southern Crescent Athlete of the Year has been a starter since his freshman year at North Clayton and he doesn't plan to sit on the bench anytime soon.
"I don't see red-shirting as an option for me; I don't have the patience to sit and wait," Engram said.
Engram laughed at the story his head coach Don Shockley told about the first time he saw Engram as a freshman. He had on red baseball shoes at spring football practice and made a tackle on one of North Clayton's standout receivers at the time, solidifying his position as a starter on the Eagles football squad.
"I wore those shoes to football practice because I played on a great summer baseball team and I thought the good luck would carry over to football," Engram said, laughing. "I really wanted to make the varsity; I didn't want to play JV or anything else."
Engram won't need any lucky shoes when he hits the UNC campus in the fall. The multi-talented wideout, who scored at least one touchdown in five straight games in 2004, said the UNC coaches have told him he will be able to get time at wide receiver and also return kicks and punts, which makes sense since Engram had 17 touchdowns as a wide receiver and seven kick and punt return touchdowns during his senior campaign.
"I'm glad to sign the scholarship and I look forward to putting in the work to be the best," said Engram, who plans to major in Business Administration. "I have to get a lot stronger and faster, I have to work on my routes and my separation speed and basically learn how to run as a collegiate wide receiver."
Engram's parents, Dirk and Angela, said they are truly proud of their son's accomplishments at North Clayton.
"It feels good to see everything come to fruition, especially from where he started from. I believe coach Cap Burnett, along with our guidance, has really helped Dirk become the player he is today," Dirk said. "As parents, we just stuck with him throughout the whole ordeal. I've always tried to instill in him the idea of being prepared mentally as well as physically."
"I always told him to work hard in spite of whether someone's looking at him or not," Angela said. "I've always said that no one's going to give you anything, you've got to go get it and he did. I'm so happy for my son - he's really worked hard and he's matured a lot."
Bowden, who made the Southern Crescent second team at wide receiver, will play safety at Savannah State University. Bowden said he's always been an offensive specialist, but he can play defense as well: in 2004, he recorded 32 tackles, 12 assists, one caused fumble and broke up two passes from his safety and outside linebacker positions.
Bowden said the Savannah State coaches have told him he'd get playing time right away on defense, but didn't rule out playing wideout.
"I'm going down there to be the best safety I can be, but if the opportunity presents itself, I won't hesitate to play on offense," Bowden said.
Bowden said his work ethic and determination to be the best came from his parents Bernard and Mirian Bowden. His father Bernard works two jobs and his mother is a teacher.
"My parents always preached to me not to get lazy," said Bowden, who's been playing football since the eighth grade. "Dirk and I get up at 5:45 a.m. to work out and I was always the first one on the field doing some running."
"I am so proud of Anthony. We've been working toward this moment ever since he started playing," said Bernard. "Now he has to stay focused and continue to work hard. If he picks up no other habit from me, I always hope he will pick up the habit of hard work."
Mirian was busy trying to get her son's signatures on his scholarship papers during the ceremony. In between doing that, she expressed how proud she was of Anthony's accomplishments.
"Anthony really matured this year and I'm very happy for him. I always tell him to do his best and to do the right thing," she said. "Savannah State has a good, disciplined program and a family atmosphere, so I'm very comfortable about him going there."