The San Francisco 49ers struck gold when they selected linebacker NaVorro Bowman in the third round (91st overall) in the 2010 NFL Draft out of Penn State. Coming off a stellar second season, Bowman registered up a team-high 143 total tackles (111 solo) with a pair of sacks and eight passes defensed.
The 6-0, 242-pound inside linebacker helped the team’s defensive unit emerge to elite status, finishing fourth in total defense, second in scoring and No. 1 against the run. In addition, the club set an NFL single-season record for not surrendering a rushing touchdown in 14 games in 2011.
Moreover, while he was not voted to the Pro Bowl, Bowman, 24, was named a First-Team All-Pro by the Associated Press, analogous to teammate Patrick Willis. Bowman and Willis are already considered hands down one of the top linebacker tandems in the game today.
Bowman also ranked No. 85 by NFL Network and just cracks GridironGrit.com’s new list of the Top 100 Players of 2012 at the No. 98 spot with 53 points. Another up-and-coming tremendously talented young 49ers linebacker, Aldon Smith, placed at No. 100 overall on our list.
Achieving success came with many challenges and insurmountable heartache along the way, albeit it didn’t really start until his college days.
Growing up a multi-sport athlete, Bowman became a member of the District Heights, Maryland boys and girls club, where he played both basketball and football and was invited to many All-star events.
At Suitland High School in Forestville, Maryland, Bowman became a standout player. Though he missed most of his senior season with a shoulder injury, his numbers were off-the-charts in 2004, as he recorded 165 tackles, nine sacks, three fumble recoveries and one interception as a linebacker and ran for 1,200 yards and 22 touchdowns as a tailback in his junior year.
Recruited to Penn State by Larry Johnson Sr., Bowman played in nine games in 2007 after redshirting the 2006 season.
Missing two contests due to a sprained ankle, he registered 16 tackles, with a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery, a blocked kick and a pass breakup in 2007. He was placed on probation in the final game of the season against the Michigan State Spartans, in addition to the 2007 Alamo Bowl for an on-campus fight and then had the probation extended for another year when he admitted to using pot.
Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno had him sit out of the Blue-Gray game of his junior year that offseason, but Paterno let up on the punishment after hearing Bowman’s side.
“In all fairness to the kid,” Paterno, then 82 said, “he had a lot of bad things happen to him. … maybe at that age, maybe you start feeling a little sorry for yourself.”
As Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle points out, Bowman lost his dad, Hillard, to a blood clot during his junior year. ”Just when things were beginning to settle, he heard just before the 2009 Rose Bowl game against USC, that his friend, mentor and former high school coach, Nick Lynch, was killed in a car accident.”
“Much of his new-found maturity comes from thinking about the men he’s lost,” Kevin Lynch added.
“He [Bowman] said he thinks about his father and his coach every day. Both men taught him patience and passion. Bowman’s dad was a dedicated mechanic who loved drag racing. [Nick] Lynch loved to teach and coach; he was renown around Forestville, Maryland for his gifts in guiding youngsters.”
An injury to presumptive starter Sean Lee (a second-round selection by the Dallas Cowboys in 2010) and the graduation of All-American linebacker Dan Connor (a third-round pick by the Panthers in 2008; though just joined Dallas this offseason) increased playing time for Bowman in 2008.
He chalked up 11 tackles, including five for a loss and three sacks, a forced fumble and an interception in his first start against the Temple Owls in a 45-3 victory and he was named Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week.
Through trail and the birth of his son, NoVorro Jr., Bowman has overcome his difficult past and forged forward with his resonant voice, strong demeanor and wisdom well beyond his years.
He also has added that he believes that his father and former high school coach is on him when he’s on the field.
“It’s a cliché about, ‘They’re watching you,’” Bowman related. “But when I’m playing, they’re in me.”
Bowman played in all 16 games with one start in Week 17 of his rookie campaign for an ailing Patrick Willis in 2010, when he accumulated 46 tackles before becoming a star in his second season.
“My son, keep your father’s commands, and don’t forget your mother’s teaching. Keep their words in mind forever as though you had them tied around your neck.”—Proverbs 6:20-21
Michael Gartman is a College Football and NFL Senior Writer, the AFC South and NFC West Lead Writer and the Founder, CEO of GridironGrit.com. He also writes for RantPolitical.com, where he reports on topics across all sides of the political spectrum and analyzes important issues in the liberty movement. Follow @_MichaelGartman, @RantPolitical and @GridironGrit on Twitter!