Winding road to plum prospects

Dywon Rowan has earned the opportunity for considerable playing time at Wisconsin

MADISON — It has been a long road to where Dywon Rowan now stands, as the No. 2 tailback on the University of Wisconsin football team.

"The spot's wide open," the 5-foot-9, 243-pounder said recently. "I'm just trying to work as hard as I can to work hard and get some playing time, and hopefully secure the No. 1 spot."

Four years ago Dywon's older brother, Levonne, signed a letter of intent to play football on scholarship at Wisconsin. Levonne Rowan was a well regarded recruit, a fleet-footed cornerback that was also highly sought after by Iowa.

Dywon might have been right there with his brother on signing day, if his academics had been in order. But grades kept the former star running back at Mercyhurst Preparatory high school in Erie, Pa., from ever receiving a scholarship offer.

"I got letters from everywhere that you can imagine," Dywon said recently. "It is just that my SAT score wasn't there right away so everybody kind of backed off."

Several college programs pitched the idea of attending a junior college, with the opportunity to walk-on once his grades were in order.

"(Wisconsin) is the spot that my brother chose so I just figured, hey, why not go that route?" Dywon said. "Go to the little junior college or whatever and then work my way back up."

At the recommendation of the Badgers' staff, Dywon enrolled at Madison Area Technical College. After two years at MATC, Rowan was accepted by UW-Madison. He joined the Badger football team in the fall of 2004 as a walk-on.

"My grades weren't good enough to get in (to Wisconsin) so I had to go another route, and I finally made it in," Dywon said. "….They said that would be the best way to go — go to MATC, get my credits right, my grades right, and then transfer over."

Dywon — who was in the same high school class of 2002 with his brother, despite being more than a year younger than Levonne — has fared well academically at UW. He expects to graduate with a degree in African-American studies in the spring of 2007.

"Academics are going real well," said Dywon, who will be a fifth-year senior in the fall. "I'm looking at anywhere from a 3.0 (grade-point average) and up. Getting to class, trying to get it done on the field and off the field. Coach stresses that a lot."

Dywon has performed well on the football field this spring to earn a prime seat in the Badgers' tailback competition. Redshirt freshman P.J. Hill is currently the No. 1, with junior Jamil Walker nipping at Rowan's heels.

Rowan has solid athleticism for a player his size (he is the team's biggest tailback), having posted a 4.55-second 40-yard dash, 4.3-second pro agility run, and a 9-foot 9-inch broad jump in testing prior to spring practices.

One of the Badgers' more consistent players this spring, Rowan has decent hands out of the backfield and is a physical player who can deliver a blow, particularly with a well-honed stiff arm.

"If they get too close, you've got to let them know," Dywon said of his stiff arm. "Danger zone."

Dywon said the stiff arm has long been part of his repertoire as a running back.

"It's kind of something I've just put together ever since I've started playing football," he said. "My dad always stressed to be a complete back. Things like blocking, running and catching the ball. So I just try to work on those things through the season and in the offseason…

"I've always been a running back; ever since I started playing football I've been a running back. In my lighter days I was a corner and a running back… During high school I moved to linebacker and running back."

In high school, Dywon was a four-year letterwinner, three-year starter and team captain, and a two-time all-state selection and team MVP. He rushed for 54 touchdowns as a prep, including 27 his senior year.

He came to Wisconsin without any fanfare — he was not even on the official roster in 2004 — and had to prove his worth, first on the scout team.

"It just gets you prepared and better motivated so you can move your way up the list, up the depth chart," Dywon said.

"The way I worked down on the scout team kind of opened the coaches' eyes," he added. "They said, hey, maybe you need to move this guy up the depth, get him the opportunity to get some playing time. I think that would help me a lot."

In fall training camp last year, Rowan challenged Walker for the No. 3 tailback duty after Hill went down with a broken leg. Playing behind Brian Calhoun and Booker Stanley, Walker and Rowan were resigned to a few leftover carries here and there — mostly in the week two rout of Temple. Rowan finished his junior year with 13 carries for 34 yards and a touchdown.

Now, Rowan is receiving ample practice time with the first-team offense and he stands to gather a considerable chunk of carries in the fall.

"I'm getting a lot of reps and I'd say I'm doing pretty well," he said. "Obviously there are some things I could do better, but I think my chances look good."

After four years together in Madison, this is the last semester Dywon will spend with Levonne — who hopes to hear his named called in next weekend's NFL Draft.

"Whenever I needed somebody to talk to, or just had a rough time, or just about classes or anything, he was always there," Dywon said. "That's the good thing about having a brother on campus."


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