What began as a nightmare of a 2003 season looks like it is having a much better conclusion for the former Opelika High star who who spent the fall in exile at Itawamba Community in Mississippi.
After being arrested in his hometown during the July 4th holiday and later convicted on charges of driving while intoxicated, the linebacker was suspended from the AU team by Tommy Tuberville. The head coach said at the time he wasn't certain whether or not Rowell would be back, noting it would be up to the linebacker to determine his potential for a return with how he dealt with his problems.
The Auburn coaches obviously like what they have seen and heard about Rowell this fall because the door has been opened for the middle linebacker to be a part of the AU football program again in January, starting with winter workouts and followed by spring training. He will be a junior in 2004.
"I will finish classes here this month and then enroll at Auburn in January and go through the winter workouts," Rowell says. The linebacker is taking care of his academic business at the junior college, has caused no off the field problems and has made strides as a football player. His coaches at Itawamba told Inside the Auburn Tigers that Rowell has had no trouble off the field and on the field he has been a dominating middle linebacker.
Rowell has been named to the All-State and All-Region all-star teams and has been nominated for junior college All-America honors after a strong season on the field even though Itawamba posted just a 4-5 record. In those nine games he had very impressive statistics with 86 solo tackles, 22 assists, five quarterback sacks for minus 23 yards and six other tackles for losses for 18 yards. He forced five fumbles and recovered three. He intercepted two passes and had 28 yards in returns.
"I played mike linebacker," says Rowell, who notes that his juco team uses a defensive system very similar to what he learned from his position coach at Auburn, Joe Whitt, as well as defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.
After seeing action as a reserve and on special teams at Auburn as a freshman, the more Rowell played this year as a sophomore the more comfortable he felt, the linebacker says. "It is always good to get out there and play in the games instead of just playing in practice."
Rowell adds that he remembers one game in particular that stood out during his fall at Itawamba. "We were playing Mississippi Delta," he says. "When we went into halftime we were down 20-7. When I came back out on the field it was like I was a different person. I was able to get my reads early and was able to see what was going to happen before things were even happening and I was making plays. It really felt like I was back in high school."
If Rowell plays with that feeling of confidence next season, he will be a strong threat to break into the starting lineup at Auburn with this year's No. 1 middle linebacker, Dontarrious Thomas, graduating.
During the 2003 season, Rowell lost weight and says his goal between now and the time he enrolls at Auburn for the next semester is to regain some missing mass. "I have probably lost around seven pounds," he says. "I weigh around 227 to 228 pounds now. I left Auburn at 235 and I hope I can get up to 235 to 240 before I come back"
Rowell is shown during an Auburn workout earlier this year.
Rowell hopes to be able to get to this Saturday's home game at Jordan-Hare Stadium as Auburn is visited by the Ole Miss Rebels for a 2:30 p.m. CST televised showdown on CBS. He made the trip back to Auburn to see the Tigers defeat Tennessee. He also hopes to get back for the regular season home finale vs. Alabama two weeks later.
Rowell, a heavily recruited high school All-American, originally signed with the Tigers in February 2001, but did not play that season because of a mixup at the NCAA Clearinghouse that mistakenly did not declare him eligible for competition. Rowell played in 11 games in 2002 as a true freshman and was credited with seven solo tackles and 13 assists in a reserve role.
Rowell and Kevis Burnam were expected to compete for playing time at the mike linebacker position this year behind Thomas, however, those plans had to be junked with Rowell's suspension and a serious knee injury to Burnam that caused him to miss the 2003 season.