For thousands of players across the United States, National Signing Day serves as the officialization of an achieved aspiration.
The phrase, “a dream come true,” is often thrown around this time a year, as players sign to continue their football careers. The expression has grown into a cliché of sorts but for Maryville seniors Eli Dowis and Tyler Houchin, the idiom couldn’t be more accurate.
Both Dowis and Houchin have grown up in Maryville, taking trips to Bearcat Stadium and Bearcat Arena to watch their hometown teams. For both Houchin and Dowis, to become a Bearcat is the realization of a dream.
“This is one of the things you dream about when you’re young,” Dowis said. “Looking at those college football players when you’re eight, nine, 10 years old, you’re just like, ‘One day that’s going to be me.’ For me and Tyler, we were lucky enough to make that dream come true.”
A photo has emerged in recent months of Dowis and Houchin, as well as Houchin’s little brother Trey, posing on the Bearcat Paw in the center of Mel Tjeerdsma Field. Now, the Maryville duo will return to the field as players year later.
“When we took that picture, I don’t even know,” Dowis said. “We were maybe 11 years old. Looking back on that picture now, it’s just kind of special.”
Dowis and Houchin served as a one-two punch out of the backfield for Maryville last season, and have been teammates for dating back more than half a decade. The two are in the midst of another season together now, suiting up for Maryville basketball.
For Dowis and Houchin, to take the next step in their athletic careers is special.
“I’ve grown up with that kid since I was probably in kindergarten or so,” Houchin said of Dowis. “Just to be able to keep moving on forward with him...it’s going to be great.”
Maryville football coach Matt Webb has watched the pair grow up over the last half-decade. Webb said he’s glad to see Dowis and Houchin get the opportunity to play at one of the best Division II programs in the country.
“It’s awesome,” Webb said. “Tyler and Eli both; all they know is kind of a winning tradition. For these guys to be able to play in their hometown their entire career is something pretty special.”
Dowis, who starred as a running back and defensive back for the Spoofhounds, will suit up as a wide receiver for the Bearcats, while Houchin’s position is less defined for the time being. The former Maryville fullback expects to fill a variety of roles for Northwest.
Northwest football coach Rich Wright spoke glowingly of both Dowis and Houchin. Wright said, in some ways, people in the Maryville area may take their signings for granted, but that shouldn’t be the case. Both players earned All-State selections as running backs in their careers at Maryville.
Wright said Dowis’ versatility and build is one thing that makes him so fascinating.
“Eli’s a great football player. He’s a great athlete period,” Wright said. “The thing that’s intriguing to me about Eli is his frame. He’s bigger than what I think people realize. He’s got a physicality to him that not a lot of receivers have, so I think we can do a lot of stuff with Eli.”
Similarly, Wright spoke highly of Houchin's athleticism but was more-so drawn to his intangible traits.
“The thing that strikes me with Tyler when I watch him...is just his leadership,” Wright said. “He’s a fantastic leader. He’s a kid that gets other people going in the right direction. I think he’s a kid that understands what it takes. Not to mention, he’s a darn-good fullback, and that’s what we’re going to play him as.”
For the duo, a pair of common themes between Maryville and Northwest football helped ensure them staying in town: culture and family. Most football programs in the country seem to tout the same ideals, but in Maryville, the programs seem emersed in the convictions. Each team’s winning record proves it.
“I really like the family atmosphere they have there at Northwest,” Houchin said about why he chose to become a Bearcat. “Not just the family thing, but the will to win is what I really like. The culture there is already high and I’m ready to go into it.”
Just a few miles away from the ‘Hound Pound, the duo can’t wait to get to work for Maryville’s neighboring program. They’ve waited their whole lives for this, and they seem ready to get after it.
“I chose Northwest because it’s been a home for me,” Dowis said. “It’s just been what I’ve known for pretty much my whole life and it makes it hard to try to go anywhere else. I’m definitely happy with my decision to stay in Maryville, and I’m looking forward to four or five more years of living here.”