GARY — The 2016 football season didn't go very well at Bowman Academy.
Honestly, it was much worse than that.
"Pretty tough," senior Tawan Stalling said.
"It sucked," sophomore George Johnson said.
"It was a very tough experience," sophomore Isaiah Harris said with his teammates after Wednesday's practice.
After an 0-10 campaign last fall, where the Eagles were shut out six times, things at the west-side charter school got worse.
Due to multiple rules violations at the school, the IHSAA put all Bowman programs on probation and shut them out of all postseason play for the second half of last school year and all of this one.
How could it get much worse?
Then, on Aug. 18, the Bowman football players met early to prepare for the long drive to Indianapolis Washington. Instead of getting jeered at and mocked in the hallways like last autumn, their classmates stood up.
They applauded. They showed great school pride.
The Eagles snapped a 14-game losing streak in a 54-14 win later that night. Then, in Week 2, it was a 20-18 win at Indianapolis Northwest. Last Friday, Bowman beat Indianapolis Howe 28-22 in overtime.
The Eagles were down two touchdowns in all three games before coming back to win.
"It took us some time to learn how to win," Harris said. "This year we had a chip on our shoulder because of what happened last year. The chemistry is much better.
"We all have one goal and that is to win."
Coach David Nelson only played four seniors last season. He had 15 freshmen, and many of the first-year players were on the field, getting run over.
But Nelson met with some of his players early in the offseason at lunch. They all asked him one simple question, which planted seeds to this year's turnaround.
"When are we going to get started?"
Even with several players transferring when rumors of Bowman closing swirled, Nelson had a core group of players hit the weight room like never before. They competed in several summer scrimmages and 7-on-7 competitions. They got better.
Last year's goose eggs started to turn into goose bumps by the play of a maturing, talented team, now with 40 on the roster.
"The guys were pretty hyped for our opener," Nelson said. "To end that streak was pretty exciting. They wouldn't shut up the whole bus ride home. That was great momentum and we're just trying to carry forward, week to week."
Earlier this week, the Eagles came in from practice and Bowman's volleyball team was in a tight match. They stayed and cheered on their friends, who played inspired volleyball and picked up their first win of the season.
In his first year at quarterback, Johnson is 22 of 45 for 475 yards and four touchdowns. Stalling has carried the ball 45 times for 325 yards and two scores. A'Torione Howard has nine catches for 211 yards and one TD.
And Harris has 132 yards and two scores, along with a team-leading 38 tackles. This 5-foot-9, 185-pounder is good. Real good.
And this team? Only time will tell.
But they're lifting the spirits at a downtrodden school at a time when it is needed.
"I knew from the jump we'd be better this year because the seniors are better leaders this time," Howard said.
"Our practice habits got better, we all knew we had to work harder than last year," Johnson said. "We're just coming out and playing our football."