"I'm getting my feet back under me a lot faster than I thought I would," said Rowley. "Things are looking pretty good. Things are looking great. The farther along the road I get, the more excited I get for this year."
Once at a playing weight of 280 pounds before his mission, Rowley is currently practicing at around 260 pounds in a defensive system that requires stout bodies able to take on a double team.
"It actually hasn't been a problem for me at all [playing at a lighter weight]," said Rowley. "I feel a lot better now than when I was 285. I feel a lot faster and a lot quicker. I can feel a little bit of weakness, kind of, being pushed around, but it's not as bad as I thought it would be. I'm about 258 right now, and they want me at 280 again, but I don't want to get there. I want to be at around 265-270 and a solid 265-270 and not like how I was my sophomore season."
The nearly 30-pound loss of weight has come as a mystery to Rowley who said he ate well while serving in Chicago. Despite being a little lighter in weight, he's grateful for the loss.
"I biked for a couple months, no Hawaiian food" said Rowley who is originally from Hawaii. "I mean, I got fed all the time. It's kind of a mystery why I lost so much weight. I was in a car most of my mission. You know, you think I would be on a bike most of my mission seeing that I've lost a lot of weight. I'm kind of grateful that I lost all that weight. Maybe it was just the Lord blessing me. Maybe I needed to be a little bit lighter to play defensive end."
When it comes to playing a four technique, where a defensive tackle is expected to take on a double team, larger bodied players that can move and hold their position for roaming linebackers to make plays is what's generally desired in a 3-4 defense. Although being under 260 pounds, Rowley has been able to supplement his lack of size with added quickness to help off-set the disadvantage.
"See I don't know yet," said Rowley. "Right now I feel pretty comfortable with where I'm at. It depends a lot on your lateral quickness. I'm going to put a little more weight on but slowly, and hopefully really good weight, and I think that would help me out right now. I'm just trying to learn my two-gap skills again. That's probably the most important thing right now other than putting the weight on."
Prior to playing at Notre Dame, former BYU middle linebacker recruit Manti Te'o once noted that BYU was a program that was able to get their return missionaries back up to playing shape quicker than any other program. Having been home now for three months now, Rowley was a part of that program and it helped him get to where he is now that spring camp is fully underway.
"It's pretty much the same program," Rowley said. "This year, just for less than a week, we [returned missionaries] are in our own group for conditioning because we obviously can't keep up with everybody else because we're so out of shape. Even if we tried really hard on our mission you really can't keep up with this kind of shape, but after that we just jumped right back in with being even with the rest of the team."
Rowley has observed that, by and large, most of the recently returned missionaries on BYU's roster are doing well.
"I'm seeing all these returned missionaries out there, and it looks like they didn't skip a beat or miss anything. It's pretty cool to see how fast people get back from that."
While the prospect of weight loss is generally a downside for linemen who desire to serve missions, Rowley feels he gained something extra by having served.
"It's been a little difficult but I feel like my mission has helped me a ton in the meeting rooms, and in focusing, and getting my mind right for practice," said Rowley. "I was super distracted before. You know, meetings were a drag before and I just felt like they were unnecessary. I've kind of learned some patience or gained some patience. You need to be coachable and I've learned to trust my leaders and trust my coaches."
There have been a lot of changes since Rowley's return. BYU has a new offensive staff they installed just a year ago and a new offensive system in place. He likes the changes he's seen in the program.
"I like it," Rowley said. "I like how they kind of do what the defense does. They line up on the sideline and then sprint out like the defense does. They're doing pursuits. I mean, they haven't done it during the spring yet but they're doing it in the fall. It kind of makes us feel even, I guess, when they do pursuit drills. I love the new coaching staff. I love the mentality they have. I love the energy they have. They have a lot more energy than they did when I was here [before my mission]."
The Go Fast, Go Hard offense is a system is difficult enough for players that haven't stepped away from the football field for two years. For those that did leave, trying to get back into the swing of things, conditioning-wise, it's a real challenge. Rowley, although lighter in weight, has noticed how much more difficult practices are due to the new Cougar offensive system.
"Man, practice is so much harder," said Rowley. "Team practice is just like… I can't even handle three plays. They're quick to the ball and getting started again and it's really cool. I feel like it's going to help us out a lot with our conditioning and with recognizing the formations a lot faster. Not all teams are going to be like that, so it's going to make it an advantage for us when we're out there."
As spring camp approaches the halfway point, Rowley is not only looking to add a few more pounds to his frame, while also adding strength, he also has the goal of simply staying healthy.
"The goal I have for spring is to finish healthy," said Rowley. "I'm kind of sick right now, but it's not an injury or anything it's just the flu or something. But I want to finish strong and keep my health up during spring ball. Something that always brings somebody down is getting hurt or something, so I want to stay healthy over spring ball and finish strong going into summer."