Locked in a tie game, the Penn State linebacker grabbed a deflected pass out of the air, and Whoosh!, 107,379 fans witnessed instant acceleration. All that jazz NFL scouts drool about -- instincts, foot speed, explosiveness -- the play had it all. Bowman joked that during his 73-yard interception return for a touchdown he saw "all green" and ran toward it. The go-ahead score and the defining moment in Penn State's 31-20 victory against Indiana all came about from one of Penn State's most talented players.
The men who know him best struggle to describe Bowman's gifts.
"Big-time player," linebacker Josh Hull said.
"Very istinctive," defensive tackle Jared Odrick said.
"Smart," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said.
Here's a small illustration of what they mean.
The interception itself was not a difficult catch. The ball fell in Bowman's hands. But to be standing on that particular patch of grass took skill. Bowman noticed something that may have seemed insignificant to other players. Indiana running back Trea Burgess broke away from the line and then looked back at quarterback Ben Chappell.
"That brought me back (toward the running back)," Bowman said.
The only reason a running back would look back toward the quarterback is if he expected a screen pass, Bowman said. When the pass flicked off Burgess' hands, Bowman just needed to reach out.
Big-time. Instinctive and smart football.
But the fact is, Bowman's four-year stay in State College will soon be over.
He can play in the NFL. Anyone watching the Rose Bowl last season should have noticed Bowman was the only Penn State player who could have started for the USC Trojans -- of late an NFL linebacker factory.
"We haven't talked about it," Bradley said. "There's a committee you can go to now,and they'll tell you where you are (projected in the NFL Draft). If he's in a position that's advantageous to him then he's got to go. Everybody thinks we want him back, naw we want what's best for him."
Bowman expects to talk with his family and the coaching staff about declaring himself eligible for the NFL Draft after this season. His former roommate, Aaron Maybin made a similar move after his third season at Penn State, signing a $25 million contract with the Buffalo Bills after being drafted 11th overall in 2009.
"I haven't made the choice yet, but it's on my mind," Bowman said. "Seeing what happened to guys in recent years who tried to play out their college career ... and not doing what they really wanted to do or what they were playing football for."
In other words, what does he gain by staying in college?
Sure he could become a better football player, but he can do that in the NFL. And though Bradley did not know Bowman's academic standing, he thinks Bowman is near graduation.
Bowman admits he has a lot to figure out after the season.
"It has to be (the) first round," Bowman said. "Being a first-rounder is what I want to do ... it's why I've been waking up at five or six o'clock in the morning. That's a pride thing, if you put into something you expect to get something out of it."
Bowman softened when pressed if he would only leave for the NFL if projected to go in the first round. He wants to support his family financially, and his mother had been widowed in the summer of 2008.
"Second round, I'd still have it in my mind but I'm looking forward to being a first-rounder," he said.
After the game, Bradley looked around the interview room and noted the collective reporters and coaches in the building don't make the combined total of what Maybin will pull down. Nobody should stand in front of a 20-something athlete being able to reach that type of payday. He looked at it this way, if IBM approached a Penn State junior with an offer to preside over its company, why should the student stay in State College?
"You've got where you want to get to," Bradley said.
Bowman's ready for a new challenge. He's that good. And moving on is the right move.
"If you have the chance to play against the best guys in the world, why not take it?" Bowman said.
Jim Seip may be reached at 771-2025 or email@example.com