Like most kids growing up, Holden Bowsman idolized his dad.
"From the time I could walk. I was on the sidelines with him," recalled Holden about former West Washington football coach Philip Bowsman, "He always included me in everything they did. He gave me all the equipment just like the older guys has when I was just a little pre-school kid running around the sidelines.
"From the time I could start playing organized tackle football, he has been my coach. The guys that started that journey some 10 years ago with me have all stuck together and are now all seniors playing their final season together."
Unfortunately, the 6-foot-2, 165-pound all-conference and all-state quarterback and the rest of his buddies won't get to share their last go-around with their leader.
Shortly after being eliminated by Indianapolis Lutheran in last year's Class 1A southern semistate final, Coach Bowsman suffered a stroke due to a blood clot.
The 43-year old skipper underwent brain surgery to relieve pressure due to swelling, but unfortunately, he passed away on November 25, 2019.
Football has definitely taken on a deeper meaning for Holden this coming fall.
"Losing my dad has definitely been the greatest loss of my life," Holden explained. "I have had to lean on a lot of people these past nine months because my dad was my go to guy for anything. But the one thing I have leaned on most is my faith in God.
"I could be angry and upset with him for taking my best friend, but I know God's plan for my dad was different than mine. I wanted him here to coach me my last year of high school football in hopes of making it to Lucas Oil Stadium and winning a state title, but God was protecting him from something greater than just coaching his son and his football team. We have all learned over the last nine months that everything works out the way it is supposed to and to not question God's plan."
For nearly two decades, Phillip Bowsman was more than just a coach and educator at West Washington.
"He was a dad to many other players on the team," Holden said. "There were many holidays where we had a bonus kid at our house for family meals because dad didn't want someone to have to celebrate a holiday alone. He wanted them to know what it felt like to be loved and cared for.
"Even kids outside of sports, just in the hallways at school, went to him for anything and he always found a solution to the problem they had. He would go out of his way to make sure anyone had what they needed and to make sure they knew that he was always there for them no matter what.
"He never liked the spotlight to be about him, but now that he's gone, he deserves all the attention he gets. I know he's sitting in heaven mad at us for all the attention we're putting on him, but he deserves it."
During this tough stretch, Holden has received plenty of support from his football family.
"I have had to lean on my all my best friends who never left my side not only the week it all happened, but they haven't left my side since that horrible day on November 25, 2019 at 1:19 p.m.," Holden said. "My coaches, who are like my second dads, have been there with me through it all.
"The night my mom (Beth) called me and told that dad wasn't going to wake up; she asked if we wanted to come up there. My sister (Maddie) didn't want to go because she knew it would be too hard, but I opted to go up and spend the little amount of time I has left with my great father. My mom asked who I wanted to go back and see him with me and I told her the coaches. They are like my second dads.
"They have watched me grow up the same as my real dad has. Since that day, they are always checking in on me through phone calls or text or even sometimes just having gatherings like we used to when dad was still here! When they make a decision about changing something about football that dad had set in stone, they always make sure to ask me first to make sure that it isn't going upset me or going to make things different. I think that speaks of volumes of the types of men and coaches Senator Football has. I'm blessed to be able to wear the red, white, and blue with 'Senators' across my chest every Friday night led my tremendous coaches."
One of those wonderful guys is West Washington superintendant and interim coach Keith Nance, who previously served an assistant under Coach Bowsman.
"Holden is an exceptional young man and a tremendous player," Nance said. "He is a special once in a lifetime player to coach. The way he has handled adversity has been an inspiration to his teammates and his coaches."
There has also been plenty of support for Holden from around the state of Indiana.
"I would like to tell everyone 'Thank You' from the bottom of my heart," Holden said. "Seeing all the posts of the lights and getting all the texts really made me realize how much of an impact my dad on high school football! It made me smile with pride to know that so many people loved him just as much as me. All the texts really turn my sad tears into happy tears because that week really showed what high school football is all about, family. From miles away, people were thinking about us and that shows what football really is."
After completing 67 percent of his attempts for 2,143 yards with 25 touchdowns and also running for 590 yards and 12 scores for the defending Class 1A sectional and regional champions Senators, Holden has his club off and running with a 49-0 blanking of Eastern (Pekin) on August 21.
"We knew last year we were expected to be good, but after losing five all-state caliber players to injury we started to doubt ourselves," Holden said. "But after overcoming so much adversity through that year we still managed to win a PLAC (Patoka Lake Athletic Conference) title, a sectional title, a regional title, and play in the Final Four. Our goals for this season don't change. We want to repeat everything but cap it off with trip to Lucas Oil and come home with a ring. But it all starts with us seniors leading by the way we play.
"We have to get everyone on board so they know what it takes to get back to semi state. We've all been playing together since third grade and our slogan then was 'One Team One Dream.' That still holds true today because we are still working towards that final dream. We believe we can go back up to Indy and claim a state title."
However, with the coronavirus pandemic still around, he also has learned not to take anything for granted.
"It has definitely been a mix of emotions for the whole senior class across the state," Holden said. "From the stand point of not knowing if today's practice could be the last practice of your career of if you'll get to play your final high school game in Lucas Oil on Thanksgiving weekend. We have learned to live with the unknowns at this point. Just being able to be in the field these last few weeks have been a blessing because it could be taken away in the blink of an eye."