Patrick Cowan didn't play tackle football until his freshman year at Bellflower St. John Bosco. He wasn't the starting quarterback there until he was a senior. He contemplated scholarship offers from schools such as Idaho and Sacramento State.
Yet Saturday, in a crucial Pacific 10 Conference game against Oregon, Cowan will start at quarterback for UCLA.
Patrick isn't even the most highly recruited Cowan on the Bruins' roster. His brother, Joe, a senior wide receiver, was the high school star, although he has been sidelined this season with a knee injury.
The brothers couldn't be more different, Anita Cowan says of her sons.
Older by 18 months, Joe is 6 feet 4, has black hair and dark eyes. He guards his words and catches the football.
Patrick is blond, an inch taller, is freer with his thoughts and throws the football.
"It's a good thing Joe is the receiver and Pat is the quarterback," Anita said. "You could always tell the difference. Pat's bolder and a little more of a leader. Pat's more like a quarterback."
Because starter Ben Olson suffered a knee injury that is expected to keep him out four to six weeks, Cowan took over the quarterback job he couldn't win in preseason practice and led the Bruins to a 27-7 win over Arizona on Saturday. He completed 20 of 29 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns.
"A lot of coaches missed out on this kid," Coach Kiki Mendoza of St. John Bosco said. "Give Karl Dorrell all the credit. He watched the film and did his homework. He got himself a real good quarterback."
Patrick has never been the star and never needed to be, said his father, Tim Cowan.
Tim, 46, was a quarterback at the University of Washington and for four years in the Canadian Football League. Anita Camarillo and Tim Cowan met when they were in grade school. They married after Tim finished at Washington and separated when Patrick was 5. Anita now lives in Pico Rivera.
Tim lives in Seattle, and every summer his sons come for visits that aren't about football. Tim was from a Norwalk family of seven children, so Patrick and Joe grew up amid aunts, uncles and cousins.
"I don't even remember how they started playing football," Anita said. "I just know they were always playing catch."
Joe was a four-year starter at St. John Bosco, and "one of those kids who ends up on everybody's top-100 recruiting list," Mendoza said. "Pat never got the hype. Joe got a lot of publicity, Pat just didn't. But the people who took the time and watched him play, they learned something. Karl Dorrell did that and when he did, he really took an interest."
It wasn't always easy to find the film.
"Joe's freshman year, we realized he was legit," Mendoza said. "You'd be watching film and every game we'd watch we'd say, 'Who did that?' And it was always the Cowan kid. He was always a step ahead of everybody else. And then we'd hear he had a little brother coming in.
"Pat just took a little longer to develop."
What attracted Dorrell to Patrick, Mendoza said, "wasn't the game tape as much as it was tape of Pat working out. Karl looked at the tape and said, 'I like the way this kid works and trains.' That's what it was about."
But Eric Ainge, from Hillsboro, Ore., starting now for Tennessee, and Rudy Carpenter of Westlake High in Westlake Village, starting now for Arizona State, were UCLA's recruiting targets.
"UCLA lost out on those guys and they went with Pat," Mendoza said. "They made the right decision, of course."
It didn't seem that way to Patrick during training camp, when Olson beat him out for the starting job.
Both are redshirt sophomores, although Olson, at 23, is three years older.
"It was a pretty hard time," Anita Cowan said. "We talked about it. It was a tough situation and the whole family told Pat he had to hang tough and we're finding that out about him -- that he has a real strong belief in himself."
"This whole game is nothing but learning to master adversity," Tim Cowan said. "Of course, your first reaction to getting beat out is to want to leave, especially when the kid who beats you is in the same class. But over the last few weeks, I've seen Patrick being more positive about his role.
"What you saw Saturday was Patrick being a leader. That leadership was not developed because of football. That was developed because of how he's grown up. There are some good things going on with Patrick."
While the boys were growing up, Anita went to Whittier College and got a business degree. She works for a specialty door company.
Tim is an insurance broker and every summer does some quarterback coaching for high school kids. But it isn't the drop step or footwork or the arm motion that Tim talks about with Patrick and Joe.
"I started playing football when I was in the fourth grade and another kid invited me to a Pop Warner game in Norwalk," Tim said. "There was a kid, No. 33, running up and down the field. His name was Rick Valenzuela and I went home and told my mom, 'I want to play football and be like No. 33.' Why? Because he was having so much fun.
"That's what I've told Pat and Joe: Have fun. Pat's experience in football has been a rocky one sometimes, but that's life. Football is just a game. I want for both Joe and Patrick to understand that there are things much bigger than football.
"Friends, families, uncles, cousins, nephews -- those are the things that enhance your life. Football is the fun."