Bowman Back on Track

Penn State redshirt sophomore linebacker is enjoying a breakout campaign after overcoming a difficult off-season.

Navorro Bowman doesn't need anyone to remind him about that ugly touchdown, thank you very much.

“I watched that play all the time on the Big Ten Network,” he said. “It got under my skin.”

Bowman had been trying to strip the ball from Arrelious Benn, but the Illinois receiver evaded him with apparent ease and romped into the end zone for a 29-yard score in what would become a 27-20 Fighting Illini victory over Penn State. It was one of the big moments in Illinois' rise to the Big Ten's upper echelon last season, and as such it got a lot of attention.

Bowman, a sophomore linebacker, is hoping for a reversal Saturday night.

“They can show highlights of us instead of Illinois,” he said.

Bowman certainly appears ready to turn things around. Indeed, he is coming off the best game of his college career. He was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after amassing a career-high 11 tackles against Temple including five tackles for loss and three sacks. He also had an interception and forced a fumble.

The game may prove to be a turning point for Bowman, a talented prospect from District Heights, Md., who has experienced a lot of upheaval since he arrived on campus in 2006.

Late last season, he and teammate Chris Baker were suspended from the team after a fight at the HUB that resulted in the filing of felony assault charges. Bowman eventually pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct and rejoined the team, but only after missing all of spring practice, too.

But that was nothing compared to what was to come. This past summer, Bowman was devastated by the loss of his father, Hillard Bowman, who died of complications from a blood clot.

Bowman struggled to bounce back from his difficulties, admitting that “there was a point where it was all negative.” He talked about his father after the Temple game, explaining that he had stayed at Penn State because that's what Hillard had wanted for him.

His ability to overcome adversity has not been lost on his teammates.

“It's a testament to Navorro,” fellow linebacker Tyrell Sales said. “Any time you can go through those kinds of situations in life and you can still overcome them and be successful … it's a testament to him. I know he dedicates this season and a lot of things he does to his father. His father would be proud of him.”

On Tuesday, Bowman said he could barely remember any of his big plays against the Owls, but he did relish the chance to start, something his father had often talked to him about. “It was real rewarding to put everything behind me and do what I do best,” he said. “I had a good day, and hopefully I can do that the rest of the season.”

Joe Paterno was encouraged by Bowman's play, along with that of the linebacker's good friend and roommate, defensive lineman Aaron Maybin. But the coach is also keeping things in perspective.

“They have a chance to be really good,” Paterno said. “But they've got to get into situations with people that know a little bit more about them and pay more attention to them. Maybe the teams we've played so far haven't done that. But I thought both of them played well Saturday.”

The Lions have every reason to be wary of Illinois. The Illini still have Benn, not to mention one of the Big Ten's most dangerous quarterbacks in Juice Williams. They're also coming off a bye week, which should ensure that they have fresh legs heading into Beaver Stadium this weekend.

But the Lions insist they're ready. They say they aren't afraid of Benn (“We practice against a lot of players who are just as good as Arrelious Benn every day,” Bowman said), and while they admit that the bye week has afforded Illinois an extra week to get healthy and find some weaknesses in the Lions' game, they, too, have a few intangibles working in their favor.

Said Bowman, “I believe we want this game so much that the bye week isn't going to matter.”

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