IOWA CITY — Last year at this time, freshman linebacker Bo Bower had a broken thumb, was a walk-on and was probably a million miles from anyone’s imaginary depth chart.
If you rewind far enough into his recent past, you’ll find that the former West Branch prep once committed to Northern Iowa. He could’ve very well been on the other sideline in Iowa’s 31-23 victory over the Panthers on Saturday.
“I was pretty close, but I’m a Hawk,” Bower said. The Bower train picked up steam in August camp, when he showed up as the starter at outside linebacker on Aug. 16. Then, he was awarded a scholarship. Saturday, he picked off a pass and recorded a key sack in his first career start.
To say that Bower’s August has been a mega-hit is an understatement. Shortly after UNI pulled within one score, Bower made a leaping, outstretched interception. Then, on a second-and-5 from Iowa’s 5, Bower had the sack and helped keep UNI to a field goal and preserved Iowa’s lead, 24-23.
“Certainly, Bo’s play was an excellent play over there on the bench, picking that off,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He also made a nice play down in the red zone.”
How did this happen?
“It was just hard work, I think,” Bower said. “The coaches always pushed me, always believed in me. That’s where I’m at today, I couldn’t do it without them, that’s important.”
As a walk-on, you have to sell yourself. Bower had a 10.9-second 100-meter dash on his resume (“It was probably hand-timed, but you know what? I’m going to take it,” Bower said with a laugh). He also was an all-stater for a traditional football power. Still, he was the one doing the knocking with Iowa.
His pursuit of the opportunity took him, among other places, to LeVar Woods’ Football Academy in Okoboji. Smart play, considering Woods is now Bower’s position coach.
“That’s what everybody has to do,” Bower said very seriously about getting his foot in the door. “Nothing is given, it’s earned, everything. I’m here now and I’m doing the best I can.”
It was a sharp debut for the redshirt freshman, but, as Bower himself said more than a few times, there’s work to do for Iowa’s defense and, specifically, the linebackers. Iowa sent all three of its linebackers to the NFL last offseason. There were burps with the new group Saturday. The Panthers hit Iowa for seven plays of 20-plus yards, including 53, 60 and 70 yards to running back David Johnson.
“It was a learning experience, and we knew that coming in,” Ferentz said. “There were going to be some challenges, especially based on the opponent we were playing, and those are things we’ll learn from.”
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