By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Stories like Bo Bower’s rise as an Iowa football player never get old.
You know the storyline; a kid grows up in Iowa and dreams of being an Iowa Hawkeye football player, and thanks to his talent and determination, and to the help and influence of others, he achieves that dream.
That describes West Branch native Bo Bower.
From an anxious walk-on in 2013 to a three-year starter at linebacker, Bower is one of the latest in a long line of players who have exceeded expectations while playing for Kirk Ferentz at Iowa.
Bower is also one of 18 seniors who will make their final appearance at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday when Iowa faces Purdue at 2:40 p.m. in the home finale.
“It’s going to be really hard,” Bower’s father, Chris Bower, said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s just hard to believe that it’s already that time. I was looking at other years past when other senior parents came out there and I kept thinking I’m glad that isn’t us.
“And here it is, it’s us. We’re the ones down on the field come Saturday, and it’s going to be really hard.”
The linebacker position will be well represented at Senior Day with fellow senior starters Josey Jewell and Ben Niemann also making their final appearance at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
Iowa's three senior linebackers have combined to start 113 games and have started 22 of the last 23 games together. The spotlight has shined brightest on Jewell, and deservedly so, considering what the Decorah native has accomplished as a Hawkeye.
But Bower and Niemann have been key contributors on defense as well, almost since the time they arrived on campus.
Niemann played as a true freshman in 2014, while Bower started as a redshirt freshman in 2014. And now they both will leave Iowa as three-year starters, and as friends for life, along with Jewell.
“They’re really, really close,” Chris Bower said of Iowa’s three senior linebackers. “They kind of know what each other is thinking on the field it seems like. And they know what’s expected of them. They just kind of know that and what they’re expected to do. And they want to do that. They want to be leaders by example.”
Help from postive role models
Chris Bower can’t talk about his son’s success at Iowa without mentioning the names of so many other people who helped to make it happen.
It’s an eclectic group that includes West Branch football coach Butch Pedersen, West Branch strength coach Phil Johnson and former Iowa and Major League pitcher Wes Obermueller.
Bo Bower met Obermueller through church and at a time when Bo still was interested in playing baseball at Iowa.
“At some point, it’s time for dad to step back a little bit and let somebody else help him out and Wes taught him a lot about baseball because he was looking at playing baseball at Iowa also,” Chris Bower said of his son, who was also a star baseball player in high school. “Wes was a positive role model.
“He’s just had so many people in his life that were role models to him. He chose the right people and he responded well. There have just been a lot of positives in his life and he took it and ran with it.”
Almost a Panther
Bo Bower almost ran in a different direction.
He almost went to Northern Iowa to play football, and it wasn’t easy turning down a scholarship from the Panthers in order to walk-on at Iowa.
Bo Bower had been committed to Northern Iowa for several months when the Iowa coaches convinced him to accept their offer as a preferred walk-on.
“He had a heck of time committing to Iowa,” Chris Bower said. “It was a struggle. He did commit to UNI and he felt like he was kind of letting them down and he kind of felt like he was going back on his word.
“But at the end of the day, he had an opportunity to play at Iowa and that’s where he went.”
Like any parent, Chris Bower believed in his son and felt that Bo could hold his own at Iowa.
Bo started lifting weights with a passion in seventh grade and his pursuit of excellence has never wavered.
Bo barely weighed 200 pounds when he became a Hawkeye, but is now listed at 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds after more than four years of training under Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle.
Bo Bower also had earned a scholarship by his redshirt freshman season.
“I saw the commitment and I just had a gut feeling that he would do well,” Chris Bower said. “Did I think that he would start his redshirt freshmen year? I was surprised there. I wasn’t shocked, but I was a little surprised.”
The keys to Bo Bower's success
Bo Bower has no secret for his success.
He obviously has some physical gifts that have allowed him to excel at Iowa. But there have been other players with more talent whose careers never materialized.
“It just comes down to guys who want to work,” Bo Bower said Tuesday. “You’ve got to have athletic ability and talent, obviously. But you also have to have the drive to want to be the best player that you can be, and know that this program is bigger than yourself and something that you really want to try and protect.
“You want to play for your teammates and the coaches and the state of Iowa and your family and all that goes with it. Especially being a local kid, and Josey is from Iowa, and Ben is completely engaged in that as well.”
Butch Pedersen has coached the West Branch football team for over three decades and he predicted that Bo Bower would make huge impact for the Hawkeyes shortly after Bower had committed to Iowa. Pedersen had watched Bower pursue his dreams on a daily basis and with a focus and determination that made him special.
“His work ethic was such an obvious thing to me,” Pedersen said. “He was one of those kids that was not going to be denied. He was going to do all the extra things.”
The same could be said about Jewell and Niemann.
Iowa's three senior linebackers only had two power five scholarship offers between them and that was Iowa offering both Jewell and Niemann late in the recruiting process.
“It just shows what this program is all about and what it embodies,” Niemann said. “It’s just been awesome to play alongside those two, a lot of great memories and we just want to go out with three wins.”
Taking advantage of an opportunity
Bower, Jewell and Niemann are proof of what can happen when desire, belief and opportunity connect.
“That's what makes it interesting,” Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. “That's what makes it unique, and I think the moral of the story is whether it's football or anything, pretty much people when given an opportunity they can do anything if they really set their mind to it and they're totally committed.
“You talk about those linebackers, that's the story of all three of those guys; they're all very serious about what they do, totally committed not only for themselves but the entire team for all the right reasons. Just the growth and the things that they've done, it's a credit to them, and it's true of every one of these guys. We recruit prospects, but what they choose to do with the opportunity is really -- that's the story, and the effort they put in and the commitment and all the things they give up to be good at what they choose to do.”
Jewell likely was headed to either Northern Iowa or to Division III Luther College in his hometown to play football until Iowa made the late scholarship offer.
“Just not rated very highly coming out of high school, which is totally fine,” Jewell said. “I wasn’t that good out of high school. It’s all about what you do here and how you take coaching. It’s been an amazing ride since then.”
Iowa was coming off a 4-8 season in 2012 when Bower and Jewell joined the program as true freshmen. Niemann then came a year later and played as a true freshman.
Together, they have helped Iowa win 34 games and will have played in four consecutive bowl games, including the 2016 Rose Bowl, when their careers are over.
“I think the biggest thing is just going in and trying to prove your worth, and obviously, living up to the standard of Iowa 100 percent,” Bo Bower said. “Leaving the jersey in a better place. The guys that come before you, that’s one of the biggest things that coach talks about is where you’re going to leave your jersey once we’re gone.”
Football doesn’t last forever, but friendships do. Bower, Jewell and Niemann share a bond that will connect them for years to come.
Bower looks forward to being in Jewell’s wedding in July.
“He’s the engaged one,” Bower said of Jewell. “I don’t even have a girlfriend.”
Bower does have a plan for after college. He wants to give professional football a chance, even though he might be considered a long shot to succeed.
Bower faced the same situation coming out of high school and look how that turned out.
“We’re going to take it like we did with everything else,” Chris Bower said. “He’s going to work his butt off and he’s going to put his head down and just give it all he’s got. And if it works out, it works out. And if it doesn’t it doesn’t. That’s all you can really expect.”