The infectious smile is back. After years of clinching his jaw so tightly he wonders how he didn't break his teeth, Adarius Bowman finally has reached a level of contentment and no longer is trying to outrun his past the way he would an opposing football defender.
And by refusing to allow others to define who he is by a very public mistake, the Canadian Football League wide receiver again has become comfortable letting both those who supported him and those who passed judgment see the outgoing personality he tried for so long to hold back.
"For a long time I was mad at so much that it affected who I was as a person and how I carried myself," Bowman said recently between bites of an enormous Aretha Frankenstein's breakfast spread. "I knew I had let so many people down and disappointed my family, the people who supported me and especially myself.
"But I didn't want to be that person that shut people out. I wouldn't change my past, because it brought me where I am now. I learned a lot. You have to effect your own change, and that only happens if you start right now. So that's what I did. I decided to stop being mad about where I was and what people were saying, and I just started being myself again. And now I wouldn't change where I am at all."
Projected as a potential first-round NFL prospect before his senior season at Oklahoma State -- The Sporting News actually rated him the top pro prospect in the entire Big 12 Conference -- Bowman instead went undrafted following a sub-par pro-day workout and an arrest for marijuana possession in Athens, Tenn., just days before the draft.
"I did it and I'm the one who has to live with it the rest of my life," Bowman said. "But at the time my life was moving way too fast. The lifestyle I lived in college was too fast for me and it wasn't who I am, so that's really when I started being unhappy. Everybody around me was living fast and I didn't like it, but I didn't know how to stop.
"I felt like I was somebody else, or living somebody else's life, and I didn't like who I was. I even had a bad attitude when I interviewed with the pro scouts. The bottom line is I was immature and wasn't ready to handle doing what it took to take that next step."
Embarrassed, Bowman withdrew into a shell and further secluded himself with each glare and finger point from both strangers and people who knew him.
"People were just downright rude to Adarius and me and the whole family," said Bowman's mother, Tara. "I was shocked how some people felt like they could just come right up to me and talk about Adarius like they knew him. They would say really mean and hurtful things, and most of it was stuff that just wasn't true.
"I kind of took it out on the whole community for a while. I actually stayed mad longer than Adarius. He's the one who helped me lose my anger, because he told me to stop allowing other people to make me mad. I had seen how unhappy he had been for a while, so that just made me more defensive of him. But once I saw he had finally let go of his anger and was getting back to being himself again, it changed me. I'm so proud of the man he has become."
With his NFL chances gone, Bowman went north of the border to begin piecing together not only his career but his life. The slower pace and dimmer spotlight of the CFL allowed him to mature and rediscover who he wanted to be off the field as well as learn how to prepare like a professional on the field.
After short stints with Saskatchewan and Winnepeg, Bowman signed with Edmonton in 2011. In the second week of the 2012 season, he tore the ACL in his left knee and couldn't return to the field until the second half of the 2013 season.
By then, the time away from the field had allowed him to heal not only physically but emotionally.
"That injury was the best thing that could've happened to me, because it gave me time to look at myself and to make some changes," Bowman said. "I was already more like the person I always wanted to be, but that injury allowed me to get out in the community more up there and really show people there's more to me than just football.
"Football gave me the opportunity to see more than I ever would have without it, but I'm not just a football player. I play football, but that's not who I am."
Bowman now is one of the franchise's most active contributors in the Edmonton community, making numerous appearances to sign autographs or visit and talk with kids. He even started helping coach a high school team during his rehab last fall and recently began a three-day-a-week radio program where he talks about current events as well as football.
"My goal is to be great at whatever I do," Bowman said. "I want to maximize whatever I'm doing, whether it's football or something else, I don't want to just be ordinary at anything. I may not ever be Jerry Rice great, but I can be Adarius Bowman great.
"That's my goal every day, to just be as good as I can be at everything I do now and let everybody see what kind of person and player I really am."
Last year, after sitting out the first half of the season to continue rehab, Bowman caught 45 passes for 703 yards and five touchdowns in the final nine games. That strong finish and the hiring of one of the CFL's top assistants as Edmonton's new head coach has given Bowman a boost in confidence that this could be his breakout season.
New Edmonton head coach Chris Jones, a former South Pittsburg High and University of Tennessee at Chattanooga player, has been the defensive coordinator for three Grey Cup winning teams and said he is looking forward to finally having Bowman on his team rather than trying to scheme ways to stop him.
"He's a multidimensional player with great size and speed who can run after the catch and make plays from anywhere," Jones said. "I told him if he comes in ready to play he has a chance to separate himself as one of the top two or three receivers in our league. He has that type ability and can be that special."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...