When Rockford native Dean Lowry takes the field this year, he'll go to work a few hours north of his hometown. Lowry is weeks away from his first professional regular season game, going from the NIC-10, Northwestern, and now to the NFL. Green Bay is now home for the former Titan and Wildcat.
"It was pretty obvious to everybody that this kid was going to be a special player."
Lowry's trajectory to packers green and gold started in those very same colors at Boylan. He got an early first taste of varsity football.
"That sophomore year was the first time I played at the varsity level. We lost that day against Wheaton North, but that day I fell in love with football and the whole team aspect of things. That really motivated me to get the team to a championship," Lowry said.
Lowry never lost a game as a junior and senior as the Titans put together back-to-back 14-0 state championship seasons.
"Yeah it's pretty surreal all the success we had. It was great times," says Lowry's friend and former Boylan teammate DJ Zimmerman. "I think we all collectively played a team game. Most teams have two or three star players, obviously we had Dean, but we had so many guys who played so many different positions."
Then it came time for college recruitment and there was an instant connection to Lowry's choice.
"I had the opportunity to coach Fitz's roommate when he was at Boylan, Tim Scharpf was a linebacker who played at Northwestern and roomed with (Pat Fitzgerald) so I had known Fitz for quite a while and knew what a high character guy he is," says Lowry's high school head coach Dan Appino, now at Auburn.
"You saw a big long athlete that if he could ever grow into that body would be an all-Big Ten level player," says Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "Little did we know as you fast forward to the end of his career, the attitude, the work ethic, and the amazing teammate he became, just a special player in our program's history."
By the end of his Northwestern career, Lowry left opposing linemen and quarterbacks in his wake, showcasing his versatility and high motor.
"He was a guy that would fill any role that we asked him to do which would help the team win," says Fitzgerald. "That legacy will live long after he puts up his helmet and shoulder pads up in his locker here at Northwestern."
The NFL took notice and Lowry's name appeared on rankings and mock selections. Draft day still carried a lot of stress.
"You don't know where your future is going to be," Lowry says, reflecting on the process. "So when Green Bay called, it was a special moment and I'm really glad I could share that with my family."
It's a match made in heaven for Appino, a lifelong Green Bay fan who will see his first ever game at Lambeau with one of his guys on the field.
"To see one of my players blessed to play at that level for the team that I love is just something I'm sure I'm not deserving of. I'll probably have to work it off in purgatory to own that at some point."
As he prepares for his rookie season, Dean Lowry doesn't forget his Rockford roots.
"To reach this level and be an inspiration to people is very gratifying because hopefully I can inspire some kids in Rockford just to work hard and accomplish their dreams," Lowry says.
Appino adds, "I'm really hopeful for what that means for the Rockford community. He's come here to Auburn and he's talked to our kids here. He did that last summer and it was really meaningful for our kids."
"Rockford really has a lot of untapped potential," Lowry says. "There's a lot of great athletes there great people. So I think if some people had a little more guidance or structure, they'd go a long way. So hopefully they can realize their dreams are closer than they think."
He started on the football fields in Rockford and at Boylan. His career then went eastward to Ryan Field in Evanston for four years where he established himself as a defensive force. Now Dean Lowry's journey continues at Lambeau Field. The Forest City's football star grabbed glory at state and brought bowl games to Northwestern and is now chasing a Lombardi Trophy for the man who once roamed those sidelines in Green Bay.