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It’s not extraordinary that Edmonton Eskimos’ Adarius Bowman played football, or basketball, or any number of other things growing up in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Sports are the culture of the South, and Tara Bowman’s son was good at whatever he did. Between track and basketball, he didn’t have time to start football until 11th grade.
Inking a two-year extension with Edmonton this of-fseason might seem like a natural progression in the career of a 28-year-old veteran, but the road there was hardly clear.
It’s a small miracle that as a student at Notre Dame High School, Bowman ranked No. 1 at wide receiver in Tennessee, and No. 5 at the position in the United States by ESPN at the time, considering he couldn’t see the ball.
And with his 20/900 vision, the self-professed Michael Jordan fan went to Notre Dame and kept playing. A one-strike policy at Chapel Hill dismissed Bowman for some off-field issues, but when he transferred to Oklahoma State in 2005, he was forced to see things in a new light when he was redshirted for the season.
“I felt like me transferring to Oklahoma State with my receiver coach Gunter Brewer – that extra pressure of wanting to be better than everybody else kind of faded for a second.
“I had to sit out for a whole year, so it was almost like a privilege was taken away to a certain extent. I got to do a lot more looking and reading and reflecting rather than doing the physical work. I was looking at it from the sideline. It made me a lot better as a player.”
In 24 games for the OSU Cowboys, he claimed 127 receptions and became the fourth student in the school’s history to gain over 2,000 receiving yards (2,187). He collected handfuls of accolades at the national level. The added perspective was evident.
Still, he couldn’t really see anything until he walked out of a doctor’s office in 2007.
“I didn’t know I had terrible vision, but I had the worst vision ever,” he said. “Like, the vision of a 70-year-old. I eventually ended up having Lasik surgery done.”
Confidence and the same natural ability scouts saw at Notre Dame High School years before carried him to the CFL in 2008, where he spent three seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Winnipeg Blue Bombers before falling victim to release in October, 2010.
“The number one thing is that I just had to slow down and look at myself rather than trying to blame it on someone else or blame it on a certain situation,” he said.
“I had to get back to my basics. I’d gotten success so young in my life, at times you just think you’re better than people naturally.”
Signing with the Eskimos at the beginning of 2011 was Bowman’s renaissance – another Oklahoma State opportunity to show that the past was behind him. His 1,153 yards and four touchdowns were the breakout numbers he needed to do it in his first year wearing green and gold.
Though a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee caused him to sit out for all of 2012, he returned for the final nine games last season to remind Eskimos fans why, alongside Fred Stamps, there might be no better pairing of slotbacks in the league. Bowman tallied 44 receptions for 697 yards with five touchdowns.
Looking beyond a four-win season in 2013, Bowman knows it’s about getting the pieces in the right place. His own vote of confidence from the team – the two-year extension – and quarterback Mike Reilly’s extension through 2016 are two of the major ways things are looking up in advance of Saturday’s regular season opener.
“It’s high energy. Me and Mike, Fred, the defence and now with Coach [Chris] Jones around here, it’s just about putting all that together,” he said.
“I feel like [we’re] closer than ever right now, and I feel like my whole life has been leading me up to this point and this moment.”
With Coach Jones bringing a “winner’s attitude” to the city, he feels the message is contagious. Bowman played against the high school team Jones coached in South Pittsburgh, about 10 miles down the road from his hometown.
“We beat them,” he said, laughing. “But I’m glad to be playing with him right now rather than against him. I’m very excited about Coach Jones in Edmonton.”
Take it from the guy with perfect vision, who cares as much about his opportunity with the Eskimos as the fans who keep supporting him at Commonwealth Stadium.
“It’s a breathtaking experience from my view. For me, as a guy who was a high-profile guy coming out my whole life, from high school to college, the CFL was my opportunity to grow as a man and also get to play something that I love,” Bowman said.
“That whole motto when everybody says, ‘This is Our League,’ it really hits home with me because this is my league. This is where I’ve had my professional career and I plan to finish it.”