Bowen: Hard Work Key To Progress
It's been just short of five years since Jarrod Bowen made the life-changing decision to move away from home and his family to join Hull City at the age of 17 - and by his own admission it's proved to be the best one he's ever made!
Having been told he was not good enough by both Aston Villa and Cardiff City as a youngster, it was Hereford United that finally saw Bowen's potential, promoting Bowen to the Bulls' first-team set-up shortly after his 17th birthday.
He made eight appearances for the Bulls in the latter stages of the 2013/14 campaign before the financial implosion of his hometown club presented the chance to join the Tigers in the summer of 2014.
Turning down interest from both West Bromwich Albion and Wolves following talks with then Academy Manager Tony Pennock, Bowen signed a three-year deal to fly the family nest and base himself in East Yorkshire as he looked to carve out a career as a professional footballer.
Fast forward five years to here and now and - after progressing from the Under-18s to the Under-23s to the first-team - the 22-year-old now boasts 99 appearances and 37 goals to his name in black and amber.
"I wouldn't have expected what's happened when I first arrived at the Club five years ago to sign a three-year deal," admitted Bowen. "That would've taken me to the age of 20, but fast forward five years - and to have so many first-team appearances and so many goals has made it one hell of a journey.
"Living away from home - away from my family - was hard at first but it meant that I would pick up different life skills and grow as a person as well as a footballer.
"The other teams that wanted to sign me were only an hour or so away from home. When I heard about those offers, my first instinct was to join one of those two clubs.
"But, after speaking to my family and my agent, I saw the benefits of coming to Hull. As much as my family wanted me with them, they realised the importance of me going away and learning to stand on my own two feet. Looking back at it now, it was the best decision I've ever made.
"I have had to be patient. I've waited and waited and worked hard. People say if you work hard you will get your rewards and hopefully my progress is the prime example of that.
"You've got to work hard from day one, but you've also got to enjoy it and play the game with a smile on your face. I'm very very fortunate to get paid to do something that I love - not too many people can say that.
"I've been lucky to have the support of my family for a long time and that has helped me to pursue my dream of becoming a professional footballer.
"That may have involved moving away from home and sacrificing a lot, but so be it. I'm doing something that a lot of people would love to have the opportunity to experience themselves. It's a real privilege and something that I will never take for granted."
It hasn't all been plain sailing for Bowen though. In his first season at the Academy, whilst playing for the Under-18s, he was taken out of the games programme following a series of niggling injuries in order to work with the Academy's Sport Science team in a bid to make the winger more robust and prepare for him the demands of a career in professional football.
"Going in every day knowing I wasn't going to be playing football in training and at the weekend was hard," explained Bowen. "Those five or six months felt like five or six years!
"Watching the lads head out to train, whilst I was just doing running next to them was really difficult. But, because I came from non-league, I didn't have the structure of physios, sports scientists and fitness coaches to aid my development.
"Even though I trained five times a week with Hereford, the intensity of training at the Academy on a day-to-day basis was so different to what I'd been used to.
"It was a new experience for me, not being part of it all and not training to play at the weekend, but Tony (Pennock) and the staff at the Academy thought it was the best option for me.
"And, as much I didn't agree with it at the time - and I've only just forgiven Tony - I now understand why that decision was made. It's benefited me massively and - touchwood - I've had two good seasons where I've played 40+ games, so the decision to do so was clearly the right one."
Bowen certainly hasn't looked back since. After stepping up to make a real impact at Under-23s level, he gained his first taste of first-team football in a Hull City shirt in 2016/17, making his debut in the EFL Cup before going on to rack up a total of nine appearances in all competitions - seven of which came in the Premier League.
It proved to be a valuable learning curve for the former Hereford youngster as he quickly established himself as one of the first names on the Tigers' teamsheet in 2017/18 - netting 15 goals in his first full season at senior level.
This season saw the workaholic winger feature in all 46 league games for Nigel Adkins' side - including 45 starts - and bag an impressive 22 goals to become only the third Hull City player in the last 15 seasons to achieve the feat of passing the 20-goal mark in a single season.
His impressive contribution on the pitch also brought a host of personal accolades, including a place in the Championship and EFL Teams of the Year along with a hat-trick of gongs at the Club's Player of the Year Awards night.
"The last two years have been good because I've had constant game-time for two successive seasons now," he added.
"I played 42 games last year and this season I was involved in every single league match. It's been good to get the minutes on the pitch and gain experience of senior football in what is a tough and very competitive league.
"I had a little sniff of it in the Premier League but nothing major. It was nice to get that taste of it though because it left me wanting more and I know the hard work has to continue in order to get back there. The biggest thing over the past two seasons is that I haven't just played - I've contributed to the team, which is something I always try to do every time I step onto a pitch."
Click here to watch the interview with Jarrod Bowen, which forms part of the Club's 'Who's Next?' campaign.