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January 2, 2014

Walkon Bowman takes the long road to NU

When Malcolm Bowman is finally preparing to play in his first Big Ten football game, don't you dare tell him to 'break a leg.'

After all the injuries Bowman suffered in the past few years, it's just not worth the risk.

Back in 2011, the Dallas (Texas) St. Mark's running back was hearing from the likes of Oregon, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Baylor.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound back had just completed his sophomore season, in which he used his 4.5-speed, hard-cutting ability and soft hands out of the backfield to demand the attention of college coaches.

But over the course of the next two seasons, he would see the field just five times in his school's next 19 games.

A stress fracture in his foot caused him to miss most of his junior season. Then, during the summer before his senior year, he tore his ACL, sidelining Bowman for the entire season.

Even when Bowman was on the field, he wasn't 100-percent. He suffered from a stress fracture in his shoulder that spanned the course of his freshman and sophomore seasons.

"I truly believe that I just had some really bad luck as a high school athlete," Bowman says. "Uncommonly bad luck."

Perhaps understandably, interest from the slew of schools began to fade. As Bowman entered his senior year, an offer from Cornell was the only one he had to his name. When he tore his ACL, even that one disappeared.

"A lot of them lost interest after the injuries," Bowman says.

Northwestern, however, stuck around. The Cats began recruiting Bowman during his sophomore year, and though they never officially offered, running backs coach Matt MacPherson and director of player personnel Chris Bowers stayed in contact with him even after the injuries piled up.

And it's a good thing they did, because Northwestern was Bowman's favorite all along, even as he was hearing from top-notch programs.

"Northwestern's actually been No. 1 since I was a sophomore," Bowman says. "For me to be able to go here now, it's wonderful. It feels like a dream come true."

That dream came to fruition in the fall of 2013, when Bowers told Bowman that if he got into Northwestern, he would "have a spot on the team, no question."

So, when he got word on Dec. 12 that he'd been accepted, he knew where he'd be spending his next four or five years. And while he traveled a long, complicated path to arrive at Northwestern -- he says he likely would've gone to Brown or Cornell if he didn't get into NU -- Bowman says he's happy the way it all turned out.

"Northwestern was my first love," Bowman says.

Even better for Northwestern's fans, he says he'll arrive in Evanston with something to prove.

"I'll definitely have a chip on my shoulder. Getting all that attention early on helped me realize that I do belong and I can compete on this level," Bowman says. "I'm very confident in my abilities to make an impact.

"Very few people know what I can actually do. I definitely have something to prove to myself and others."

If Bowman does end up making an impact in a Big Ten game, it won't happen this coming season. He and the coaching staff made a dual decision that he would redshirt his freshman year in order to "shore up his knee" and make the necessary physical transition to play in the Big Ten.

After all, if he's going to be a difference-maker, he's got to stay healthy. Though Bowman says he was committed to the weight room throughout high school and has always been one of the stronger players on the field, he admits that position-specific lifting and training should help him become a more durable back.

Right now, though, he says he's feeling close to 100 percent. He's two months ahead of schedule on his recovery from ACL surgery, which took place four months ago, and he's confident that he'll regain the mobility that makes him a "one hard-cut back."

If he does, he could have a good chance to earn some scholarship money as his career progresses. One-hundred percent of the walkons who spend their entire time at Northwestern on the team get some sort of financial support, Bowman was told, and that can start as soon as a player begins to get some sort of playing time.

Before he gets to that point, however, Bowman says he eagerly awaits the chance to showcase his strengths -- which he says include elusiveness, pass protection and receiving -- out on the practice field.

"All I've been waiting for is really an opportunity to compete. I really don't concede that anyone is automatically better than me," Bowman says. "I honestly don't know how good I am because I haven't had a healthy season in high school football."

If he's able to get back to the level of play that impressed Oregon and Texas A&M, Northwestern might've just found it's latest diamond in the rough.

And though he's still months away from arriving in Evanston, it's clear that he's the type of kid that Pat Fitzgerald loves to bring to Northwestern.

"I'm ready to go to work," Bowman says. "And Go 'Cats."




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