Iowa football is back. The Hawkeyes are in camp, and the season is approaching. Land of 10 is here to keep you informed and get you prepared for the season. In August, we are breaking down position groups. In this edition, we look at the linebackers.
IOWA CITY, Iowa — At Iowa’s traditional kids’ day practice last Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, Iowa linebacker Bo Bower delivered a hit so hard the thud nearly echoed off the steel bleachers.
During the live scrimmage portion, Bower blitzed up the middle on the Iowa offense, and running back Toks Akinribade stepped into the hole and met him head-on. In one powerful motion, Bower crushed the fairly large running back and sent Akinribade to his back. Bower immediately stopped, the whistle was blown and the play was ruled dead. Fortunately, Akinribade was not.
But the collision Bower won showed yet again why this tough, nasty hitter has emerged as a 3-year starter in Iowa’s linebacking corps. He walked on after a solid prep career at nearby West Branch High School and earned a scholarship after just one season. He started as a freshman, was benched as a sophomore, then earned a starting spot last year. For his final season, Bower relentlessly has held off more athletic younger players. In fact, he has extended his advantage at the weakside linebacker role.
“I would be very honest with you, he’s pushing forward right now,” said Seth Wallace, Iowa’s assistant defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. “I think he’s got a chip of his shoulder, whether it be the experiences of the past or whether if be the fact he’s going into his senior year, and he wants to play his best football. I think that’s how he kind of forged through with this deal.”
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Bower has the background of the perfect underdog story. He grew up a Hawkeyes fan but picked up a scholarship offer from FCS Northern Iowa. The Iowa coaches kept pushing him to walk on. He spoke with his father, Chris, who offered to pay for school at Iowa.
“He said do what you want,” Bo Bower said. “You can only play Big Ten football once. It’s the biggest stage and that’s basically what it came down to.
“The first year my parents took care of it, so I was blessed.”
After a year on the scout team, Bower earned a starting role at outside linebacker in 2014. But he also struggled in that hybrid position to cover quicker players in space. By 2015, he moved inside but was a backup. Initially he was set to stay a reserve, but regained his starting role after a spirited training camp last August.
At times, Bower is a target for fan criticism. Whether it was his initial walk-on status, other players’ athletic skill sets or another perceived detriment, some fans want a different player in that role. Bower has no time for that discussion.
“I don’t listen to any of it,” he said. “I never look at Twitter. I rarely look at Facebook. I’ve got an Instagram that I use and a lot of time there’s not usually not any kind of stuff on there. It’s all just pictures. I stay far away from it. I honestly don’t have any idea of what anyone’s saying and it doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. It doesn’t matter.”
‘Working hard and being a good person’
Bower fits the small-town Iowa stereotype. He grew up on about 10 acres between West Branch and Iowa City. He loves to fish and hunt. He’s a passionate conservative who doesn’t seem himself getting into politics. He credits his work ethic to his success as a player and as a college graduate this December.
“Obviously I’ve been raised by my parents and they’ve instilled to me the beliefs of working hard — that’s No. 1 — and being a good person,” Bower said. “Coach [Kirk] Ferentz literally embodies that kind of mentality as well, being a good person and that’s what you have to do to make it in this program. It’s something that you’d think would be easy, but it’s not. When you do that, you’ll be fine. I think that’s something that’s helped me and helped a lot of us on the team.”
As a conservative in a predominantly liberal city, Bower stresses his ability to get along with people as essential.
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“It’s one of those things, believe what you want to believe, everybody be nice, be polite and it comes down to being a good person,” he said. “Because there’s so much evil in the world these days and that’s something that’s always being fought, good vs. evil.”
Besides football, outdoor sports capture Bower’s interests. He and roommates Josey Jewell and Ike Boettger hunt and fish as often as possible in Eastern Iowa. Hunting is less of a priority during college football season, but in the summer, they hit the area lakes and rivers for fish.
This summer, Bower and one of his cousins spent time in Wyoming hunting predators and prairie dogs. The region’s visual majesty left Bower in awe.
“Wyoming was unbelievable,” he said. “There were antelope all over the place. They tell stories of bears and wolves coming off the mountains. There’s elk coming off the mountains. It’s an unbelievable place.”
Bower takes school just as seriously, and he’s four credits from graduating with a degree in geographical information sciences.
Earning his playing time
Jewell and Bower became roommates their first year at Iowa and have roomed together ever since. When asked about his most interesting moments with Bower, Jewell just clenched his lips and smiled.
“There’s a lot. I don’t know I can say a lot of them,” Jewell said. “He’s a funny guy. There’s a lot to the guy. He’s just pretty funny. He’s interesting.“
Jewell and Bower earned their way on the field after a season on the scout team. Often they played rush defensive ends and squared off against tackles Brandon Scherff and Brett Van Sloten. It taught both linebackers how to compete against high-level competition at a young age. Bower said when he held his own in physical periods like 9-on-7 (offense vs. defense), that’s when he knew he could hang on the field.
“So that gives you confidence and your confidence works up from there,” he said. “You feel like you can compete.”
Bower has progressed as a player throughout his college career. He finished second in tackles last season with 91 and also recorded 4 pass breakups and a forced fumble.
As a reserve in 2015, Bower picked off a pass against North Texas and raced 88 yards for a score. It ranks as the seventh-longest interception return in school history. He has 140 career tackles, including 8 for loss, plus 3 interceptions and 7 pass breakups. Bower has started 26 career games.
Iowa’s weakside linebacker role suits Bower. He lines up alongside Jewell and stays primarily between the tackles. It’s a physical position and, as demonstrated in the kids’ day practice, one of which he excels.
“He’s learned from his experiences,” Wallace said. “He certainly accepted his role, he owned his role when he received it three years ago and then when he lost that position, he owned that role at that point in time. He battled for the job last year and is continuing [to battle].”