By Jerrell Richardson
NaVorro Bowman #53
Height: 6 ft. 0 in.
Weight: 242 lbs.
Born: District Heights, Maryland
College: Penn State
Experience: 3 years
San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman has been constantly fighting for respect on the football field. He was not recruited by colleges to be a starter and was not considered a high draft prospect entering the NFL. He was brought to the 49ers as a backup to add some depth to a position that already had Takeo Spikes and Patrick Willis in place. As he has done since college though, Bowman waited for his opportunity and let his play do the talking. He has transformed from a player the team hoped could fill in as needed to a fast-rising superstar and one of the best in the league at his position, and he is only 24 years old. With Bowman and Willis controlling the middle of the field, the 49ers have arguably the best young linebacking core in the league. They figure to terrorize opponents for years to come.
Bowmen grew up playing his high school football in Maryland where his athletic talents allowed him to excel on both sides of the ball. His high school junior campaign was so impressive that a shoulder injury that kept him off the field for most of his senior season did not deter Penn State among others from pursuing him. His stats as a junior were astounding as he racked up 1,200 yards and 22 touchdowns as a running back, but he made it clear that his future rested on the defensive side of the ball. He had 165 tackles, nine sacks and three fumble recoveries, earning him Defensive Player-of-the-Year Honors as well as First Team All-State and All-Conference. But due to concerns around his shoulder, even Penn State did not figure Bowman to be their starter.
Paying His Dues
As a freshman, Bowman was behind All-American linebacker Dan Connor and Penn State had already named Sean Lee as Connor’s predecessor. However, things changed in 2008 when an injury to Lee gave Bowman the opportunity he needed. As the Week Four starter, he responded with 11 tackles (five for a loss), three sacks, a forced fumble and an interception on his way to being named Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week. Since that day, he never left the team’s starting lineup. But despite a solid college career, he was not highly touted when he declared himself eligible for the NFL in 2010.
By taking him with the 91st overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, San Francisco got one of the steals of that year. Bowman came into camp intent to earn a spot, despite the daunting names of Willis and Spikes in front of him on the depth chart. Bowman showed that although he was still learning, a lot his ability to contribute was clear, so coaches found a way to get him on the field for all 16 games as a rookie. Once Spikes went to another team, the job was Bowman’s for the taking. He has responded like he did in college and has put a stranglehold on the position. If someone tries to take his starting job, they will be in for a fight.
Since taking over the starting spot, Bowman has played just as well as his fellow linebacker Willis. In fact, in his first year as a starter, Bowman led the team in tackles, finishing second in the league. Playing next to Willis, who has recorded 20+ tackles more then once in his career, this is no small task. Bowman’s absence from the Pro Bowl was due to his just bursting on the scene, but you can be certain that 2011 was no fluke, so he will be making his way to Hawaii very shortly. As Bowman matures and continues to learn his position, in a few years he may even surpass Patrick Willis as the best player on a very talented defense.
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Jerrell Richardson is a Bay Area native who due to a college career at San Diego State University has grown an appreciation for all things sports related in California. His heart will always remain in San Francisco though where he currently resides and covers everything from the San Francisco 49ers and Giants to the San Jose Sharks and California Bears Baseball team. His work can be found on Examiner.com.