In less than two seasons, Adarius Bowman is back doing what always came easily for him -- shredding opposing defenses and winning over fans of all ages.
After spending his rookie year adjusting to the differences of the game north of the border, the former Notre Dame High School star is quickly rising through the receiving ranks of the Canadian Football League for the Winnepeg Blue Bombers.
Bowman was named the CFL's offensive player of the week after becoming the first receiver in more than two years to reach the 200-yard mark in a single game. In last weekend's win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Bowman caught 10 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. He had 95 yards in the first quarter of that game and 180 and two scores in the first half.
He spent nearly three hours Thursday signing autographs for fans, and if you visit the Blue Bombers' Web site, the full-screen picture of Bowman with the caption, "Join Adarius Bowman and the rest of the team and bring the noise" makes it clear that the Chattanooga native has become the face of the franchise.
I'm not surprised by either his on-field accomplishments or how quickly he has won over the fans. Bowman and former Cleveland High standout Dante Hickey are the best pure athletes I've seen in my 20 years of covering area sports.
Bowman's good-natured personality and quick smile also made him one of the most genuinely likable kids I've ever dealt with.
At Notre Dame, Bowman cleared 7 feet at the state high jump competition and became one of only two local players to be a two-time state Mr. Football award winner. He was only the third Tennessee male athlete in the last 45 years to earn all-state honors in three sports.
But Bowman also has had a knack for following spectacular athletic peaks with disappointing personal valleys. Midway through his sophomore season at North Caroina, he was dismissed from the team after he and two teammates were arrested for marijuana possession. After transferring to Oklahoma State, Bowman made an immediate splash by setting a Big 12 record with 300 yards on 13 catches and scoring four touchdowns against Kansas. That earned him national Player of the Week honors, and the next season he was featured on the cover of the Cowboys' media guide.
In two years at Oklahoma State, Bowman had more than 2,100 receiving yards, never ran afoul of the law and was considered a first- or second-round NFL draft prospect. Then in April of 2008, just weeks before the NFL draft, he was arrested for marijuana possession. That led to him going undrafted and eventually signing with defending Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan.
After a solid professional debut -- 23 catches for 358 yards and three TDs -- Bowman was traded to Winnepeg during the last offseason and now ranks 11th in the league in receiving yards with 779 yards and six TDs. After dropping nearly 20 pounds and increasing his speed, he is averaging 16.6 yards per catch.
"He's got a skill set of size and speed that a lot of receivers in this league simply don't have," said Calgary Stampeders defensive coordinator Chris Jones, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga player. "He was a guy that I absolutely wanted on our team because he's a headache to have to defend.
"The only knock against him before was his consistency in catching the ball, but that doesn't seem to be a problem anymore. He's the type physical specimen the NFL is looking for, and if he can stay away from the off-field things that haunted him the last few years, he's got a chance for another opportunity at the NFL."