The morning of May 10 got off to a pretty ordinary start for Luke Bowanko. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound Clifton native took advantage of the warm weather with his dad at Westfields Golf Club, but he had a hard time staying focused over the ball. Thoughts kept drifting toward his pants pocket, where a life-altering phone call could buzz at any moment.
Bowanko, a former offensive lineman at Centreville who flourished at UVa, knew he had a chance to be selected somewhere between the fifth and seventh rounds of the NFL Draft. He arrived home from the course in the middle of the sixth round and began to wait in front of the TV.
He didn’t have to wait long. Shortly after taking a seat on the couch, Bowanko saw his phone light up to an unknown number. It was Jacksonville Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell calling to let him know he’d been selected with the 205th pick in the draft.
“I had been getting calls, but obviously none from any general managers at that point,” Bowanko said. “When I heard David Caldwell on the phone it was kind of like a surreal moment. It was probably the most exciting five seconds of my life.”
Bowanko packed his bags and flew down to Jacksonville the next morning. Two days later he hit the weight room with fellow rookie draft picks and took the field alongside veterans and rookies alike. He then took part in rookie minicamp along with the team’s eight other draft selections, 17 collegiate free agents and 26 workout players.
The whirlwind process continued on Monday, when Bowanko became the first member of Jacksonville’s 2014 draft class to sign his rookie contract. His four-year deal is worth $2.3 million and includes a $94,000 signing bonus.
“That stuff just kind of works itself out,” Bowanko said. “There’s not a lot to be negotiated anymore with rookie contracts thanks to the new CBA. I kind of told my agent I wanted to get it out of the way early, and he did a great job. It’s just another box to check off in the process of getting into my rookie campaign and getting comfortable and starting to put the work in.”
Bowanko was the third player selected from the University of Virginia, which also sent Morgan Moses (66th, Redskins) and Brent Urban (134th, Ravens) to the NFL. He was the first center to be drafted from the school since John St. Clair went to the St. Louis Rams in 2000.
Bowanko started the final 37 games of his college career, rotating between right guard, left guard and center. He started the first four games of his senior season at left guard before playing the final eight at center. The 2013 co-captain served as a key cog in front of Kevin Parks, who became Virginia’ first 1,000-yard rusher in a season since 2004.
Though he says his best football came at the center position, Bowanko is keeping himself ready for anything, as the Jaguars haven’t yet pinned him to a certain spot. The retirement of 14-year veteran Brad Meester has opened up competition for the starting job at center, while there should also be competition for the guard spot opposite Zane Beadles.
“I don’t know yet. It’s really early in the process,” Bowanko said. “All I can do right now is keep getting better every day and it will kind of work itself out in time. I’m not really trying to slot myself anywhere. I’m just trying to get better as a player so I can help this football team win some games.”
While Bowanko’s career blossomed at Virginia, it began at Centreville, where he came in as a lanky basketball player his freshman year.
“Coach Mike Skinner was like, ‘Dude, you’re 6-6 and you can’t jump a lick. You can play basketball at a Division II or III school or you can play anywhere you want,’” Bowanko recalled. “That kind of transitioned me into being a football player. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for him taking a chance on a skinny kid freshman year.”