Kentucky wide receiver Lynn Bowden hadn't started a game at quarterback since his high school days. Yet in Week 7, facing an SEC opponent, he found himself behind the center once again, this time for the Wildcats.
In the fourth quarter of a tight matchup against Arkansas, Bowden took a 2nd-and-13 snap at the Arkansas 23-yard line down three on the scoreboard with less than seven minutes to play. 23 yards later Bowden was on his feet standing tall in the deep blue Kentucky end zone to take the lead. Soon after the score, his knees danced a little higher, he tossed the ball to the side, he pointed to the sky with one finger in the air.
And then he smiled.
It had been a long journey to that smile.
Bowden, a former 4-star recruit, led the Wildcats in receiving last year. And when I say he led them in receiving, I mean all of it. Bowden's 67 receptions, 745 receiving yards and five receiving touchdowns were all team highs. The second-year sophomore was the most dynamic player the offense had, and they emphasized him as such.
When Bowden steps on the field, he's a natural. With or without the ball he seems to be a step ahead of the rest. For as often as it happens and as effortless as the big plays sometime seem, you figure Bowden's football journey, to this point, was probably easy. Truth is it was anything but.
Coming from Youngstown, Ohio, Bowden lit the local football circuit on fire with stats and highlights that were as good as anyone had ever seen. His high school coach even compared him to Youngstown legends of the past, guys like Mario Manningham, Daniel Herron and Maurice Clarett.
The difference was those guys got offers to play at Ohio State -- Bowden's dream school.
Bowden didn't until it was far too late.
In Bowden's mind, he took that as being an afterthought, a feeling far too familiar from other areas of his life. In an in-depth piece by Kyle Tucker of The Athletic, Tucker explains that Bowden's father was in and out of his life (he cared about partying more than being there for his son), that many of his family members were in and out of jail throughout his upbringing, and brought to life the harsh reality of growing up in the place Bowden called home.
This is normally the part of the story where the author might tell you that sports became an outlet for an escape, as has been the case for many athletes in their various walks of life. But despite his stellar stats, when Bowden thought about his production on the field, it only made him feel worse -- it took him to a dark place.
"Nobody really wanted me," Bowden told The Athletic. "The people who really wanted me, it’s because I played sports. If I wasn’t doing something good for them, they basically gave up on me.”
Bowden nearly gave up on school. He nearly gave up on football, too. But then something happened that forced him to change. Something that changed his life forever. He became a dad to his son Lynn Bowden III.
“Reality set in: I got a child coming,” Bowden said to the Athletic. “I didn’t want him to be raised like I was, just with his mom, no dad there for those early life stages. Because the hardest thing I learned without my dad all those years is that’s really the one true love that you want to have, that father-son bond.”
When Bowden became a father, his priorities changed. He was no longer going to class, playing football and anything else in his life just for him. He was doing it for his son -- out of love. Soon after he realized that football might just be the best way to provide a life for his son that he never had.
With a new motivation on life, Bowden's entire world changed. He worked diligently to get his grades back up, and he was more determined to be the best football player he could be. Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats noticed. Stoops took the time to really dive into Bowden's life during the recruitment process. Stoops believed in Bowden, the real Bowden, and for the first time in a long time, Bowden believed in that belief.
It took Bowden every extra hour he could give to get his grades to the point where he could fulfill the scholarship offer Stoops gave him, but he did it. Fast forward to today and Bowden's motivation has not let up. Not only is he the Wildcats' top offensive player, he's recorded a 3.5 GPA in each of his last three semesters.
Since becoming a father, Bowden is a new man. He has new motivation for what is almost a second life he's getting to live. In every move he makes, he's thinking of his son first. His grades, his play and even his new image revolve around his son.
So whether he's catching a deep pass, taking an end-around for a first down, completing a pass for a touchdown, fielding a return, or who knows, maybe even making a tackle on defense, let Lynn Bowden be a reminder to never give up, it's never too late to be the person you want to be, and that life is often at its best when your motivation comes from someone else -- when it comes out of love.