BEFORE the height, or the throwing arm, or all the measurements that people might seek in a quarterback, Columbus East coach Bob Gaddis said he looks for something else.
“I took for a guy who makes plays when it matters,” Gaddis said.
He hit the jackpot in junior quarterback Alex Cowan.
Cowan, The Republic’s Offensive Player of the Year, led the Olympians to sectional and regional championships and a 13-1 record, with the only loss to eventual state champion Cathedral.
“Leadership is No. 1,” Gaddis said. “Those intangibles are very important when it comes to teammates trusting him.
“Alex had a great work ethic, and he also had something else. You know, when things go bad, people are going to blame the coach first, and second the quarterback. You have to be able to handle that. You have to have thick skin.
“You can teach a guy to stand and throw, but what is he going to do when it is third-and-eight?”
On third-and-eight, Cowan was at his best. He completed 65 of 130 passes for 1,093 yards, and he threw 15 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
When he wasn’t completing big passes, he was rushing 210 times for 1,185 yards and 19 touchdowns.
“A quarterback has to be a leader, someone who will take charge on the field,” Cowan said. “It has to be someone who will do anything so the team can get better.”
Cowan, who was a starting wide receiver for East as a sophomore, knows that he isn’t the stereotypical quarterback.
At 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, he has to use all his athletics skills to be effective.
“I think I have more fun running the ball,” he said. “I’m better at it because of how tall I am. But I remember when I heard that I went 1,000 and 1,000. I thought that was awesome.
“It just said that I am doing my job right.”
His teammates would agree. When the feeling circulated that East would suffer this season and be forced to rebuild, the Olympians started by beating Class 5A Bloomington North and Columbus North, then never looked back.
“I just thought of this season as a new year and that I would play the best I could,” Cowan said. “I knew that we had some tremendous players, and I knew we would do better than some people thought.”
Because of Cowan’s running ability, the East coaching staff went to a power running game and therefore brought the tight end back into the game plan. Combined with the punishing runs of tailback Markell Jones and the shifty dashes of Christian Wichman, teams couldn’t deal with East’s skill players.
“Our line was tremendous the whole season,” Cowan said. “And what can you say about Markell? The way he runs, none of this would happen without him.”
In the end, the Olympians were champions.
“I look back and think, ‘Whoa.’ Who would have thought we would make it so far? We just showed a lot of people up.”
Cowan’s favorite memory from the season will be the win against Columbus North. And he also had another favorite moment which came while he was on the bench.
Cowan’s helmet came off in the first quarter against Cathedral in the semi-state game. He was replaced for one play by Brian Wichman, who ran 79 yards for a touchdown.
“It was supposed to be a run for Markell,” Cowan said. “But the snap was high.”
Brian Wichman found a hole right up the middle and broke free. Cowan cheered him all the way to the end zone.
If it meant that kind of production, Cowan said he would be happy to stay on the bench.
Anything for the team.