CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- After finishing up middle school, things seemed to be going smoothly for North Carolina football commitment Adarius Bowman. He had plenty of friends, a loving mother and a new stepfather that he respected and with whom he got along well.
But Terrance Wilkins was about to suggest something that would challenge his stepson to set his sights higher than the other kids in his neighborhood. He told Bowman to check out Notre Dame Catholic High School, instead of attending nearby Brainerd where all of his friends were headed.
Bowman obeyed Wilkins and decided to give it a shot. He passed Notre Dame's tough entrance exam, but little else went well academically for him over the next two years. Although he realized the quality of education was better at Notre Dame, Bowman did not fit in with the other students and he really began to miss his old buddies.
"It was like starting all over again," Bowman said. "I felt like I hadn't learned anything."
Then one day in his sophomore year, when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, Bowman was pulled out of practice by his grandmother.
"She said, ‘Come on, we've got to go home. Your house is on fire.' It didn't seem real to me until we got there," Bowman said.
Bowman arrived at his childhood home just in time to see it collapse to the ground in flames.
"I lost everything," he said. "As far as the clothes and everything, that wasn't very important to me, but I lost all of my trophies and awards that I received from middle school.
Now with his family's life turned upside down, the Bowmans were forced to relocate into temporary housing while their new house was being rebuilt.
"That really put me down a lot," Bowman said. "I was almost to the point that I didn't feel like going on anymore. We had moved into a neighborhood that my younger brothers and I really didn't like. We weren't doing real well over there."
But shortly after that tragedy, Bowman's mom made a decision that would ultimately point her son on the right track. She told him he could no longer play basketball until his grades improved.
Bowman was at a turning point and chose to accept his mother's sanctions for he wanted to play sports more than anything else. He started working with a tutor and focusing on making the best of his scholastic situation. It wasn't long before he had transformed himself into an above average student. At the same time, another change was taking place. Bowman was making friends -- a lot of them.
He was growing up mentally as well as physically, and soon he was back playing sports at a much higher level. By his senior year, Bowman had become a three-sport phenom for the Fighting Irish who would attract the eyes of countless Division I college football, basketball and track recruiters. His family was also able to move back into their home by then, that had been rebuilt and refurbished better than could have ever been imagined.
"That senior year rolled around and they rebuilt our house," Bowman said. "It looked real good. They fixed it up real nice. Then I had a great senior year in football."
Bowman said he believes the rough road he endured was laid before him for a purpose, and that he wouldn't trade that experience for anything in the world.
Academics are obviously important to Bowman and Notre Dame head coach Charles Wiggins. However, neither puts much stock in the NCAA self-study results that list UNC as having some of the best graduation rates for African-American athletes, with Tennessee coming up significantly short.
"I was aware of it, but it didn't really affect where I was going to go," Bowman said. "North Carolina was real high – and Tennessee came up zero. It's great if you've got that many people graduating, but I think it really comes down to the person."
"A lot of that stuff can be skewed, because kids do transfer or go into the NFL and come back to get their degree a few years later," Wiggins added. "But it's a good benchmark for people to know about, because some kids aren't focused on the annuity they have the opportunity to redeem."
Bowman was attracted to UNC for other reasons, many not unique to his situation.
"The campus was beautiful; I loved it," Bowman said. "Every time I have been on campus, I've thought that's where I want to be for the next four years. Being in the athletic area looking out onto the field and being with the players and coaches…I just liked it a lot.
"There were other schools that offered me, but there was just something I liked about that school."