Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers is expected to be a top 10 pick in the 2011 NFL draft. SB Nation's Shakin' The Southland gives us a closer look at Bowers as the NFL draft nears.
Two things set Da'Quan Bowers up for this outstanding season, neither of which should've happened.
First, just following the bowl victory over Kentucky, he lost his friend Gaines Adams. Gaines was thought to be a healthy young man, having just finished a season with the Chicago Bears after being drafted fourth by Tampa Bay in 2007. Gaines always had problems putting on weight at Clemson, and no one caught on that he had an enlarged heart, which ultimately caused his death.
Gaines had told Da'Quan that it was time for him to live up to his hype after coming into Clemson as the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Da'Quan had only four sacks in his first two seasons, and a relatively poor work ethic. He took plays, and sometimes entire games, off. His friend Robert Quinn was rated behind him in the recruiting rankings coming out of High School, and had a standout career at UNC until this point. This angered and motivated him further. It was revealed that he and several others on Clemson's defensive line had put on weight during the football season, likely causing our issues stopping the run in the second half of the 2009 year, and that Bowers himself was up in the 295 range.
The second was the premature loss of his Dad. Dennis Bowers was a gospel singer and Da'Quan joined his gospel group as a guitarist during semester breaks and weekends in Bamberg SC. Before a show in Augusta, GA, just as Clemson was opening fall practice in August, Dennis reportedly collapsed from a heart attack. We had heard he was stable and that Da'Quan was being released from practice to see his father for the weekend. He made it to his father's bedside and they talked all night, but the next morning he passed. It was quite a shock to us all. None of us are meant to lose our parents at 21 years of age. We still haven't finished growing up.
After the loss of Gaines in January, his dad had challenged him to play up to his potential and establish the work ethic required to go from "talented prospect" to NFL player. He and the entire defensive line lost the weight they had gained, and he became a true leader on the defense. As fans we wondered whether the loss of his dad this close to the season would crush him. I felt last summer that his 2010 season would show that he was a future 1st round pick, but losing a parent this late in the year could, quite understandably, crush any of us in Da'Quan's position. Some people fold when they are pressured, but Da'Quan flourished. He has said himself that he was forced to grow up after his dad passed.
Grow up he did. The 6'6" Junior DE weighed in this year at 275lbs, put in 67 tackles, 25 for a loss, with 15.5 sacks and 19 pressures this year for Clemson. He won the Bronco Nagurski trophy and the Ted Hendricks award while becoming a unanimous All-America. He was unstoppable by nearly every opponent we faced this fall, drawing comparisons to Julius Peppers. Da'Quan has the same ability to speed rush around any opponent he faces and the upper body strength to bull rush them as well, a rare combination. More of his sacks this year were due to those than any great pass rush move technique, and his hustle was light-years ahead of where it had been during his first two years.
If the Panthers do not take him with the #1 pick in the Draft, he won't last much longer. He's a classic 4-3 defensive end who is strong against the run and nearly unstoppable against the pass.
For more on Clemson and the 2011 NFL draft, check out Shakin' The Southland.