DeKALB — Senior quarterback Ross Bowers is glad to be a part of something again.
The Huskie quarterback didn’t always feel that way last year. After starting all 12 games at the University of California-Berkeley in 2017, Bowers began the 2018 season as the Golden Bears’ starter. However, in the 2018 opener against the University of North Carolina, Bowers was benched to start the second half and never played another down for the Golden Bears.
After announcing his intention to transfer to NIU last spring, Bowers arrived to summer camp and won a battle with incumbent Marcus Childers to become the Huskies starting quarterback. Bowers made his first start in a 24-10 win Aug. 31 against Illinois State University.
“It was so much fun,” Bowers said. “It felt like being a kid again, just being out there with your buddies playing football. It’s nice to be included again to be honest. After the first game last year I felt like I was kicked to the curb and tried to be forgotten.”
Last year was certainly a lesson in handling adversity for Bowers, who seemed well-entrenched in the California lineup after throwing for 3,039 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2017. After losing his starting spot, Bowers was officially shut down for the season when he was diagnosed with a broken thumb.
The fact the Golden Bears were looking to go a different direction at the quarterback position ultimately led to Bowers’ departure from Berkeley.
Bowers arrived at NIU as a graduate transfer, having completed his degree in American Studies at California last spring.
Through his first two games in a Huskie uniform, Bowers has thrown for a combined 528 yards and three touchdowns while running for another score.
In the Huskies season-opening win over ISU, Bowers threw for 299 yards and connected with nine different receivers, including Tyrice Richie for two scores. That was Bowers’ highest passing game since putting up 356 yards in a 44-28 loss to the University of Colorado in 2017.
In Saturday’s 35-17 loss at the 13th ranked University of Utah, Bowers went 20-for-29 for 229 yards and a touchdown. He also provided a SportsCenter-worthy highlight when he scampered nine yards for a touchdown, punctuating the score by executing a full flip over two Utah defenders and landing on his seat in the end zone.
“I thought [Ross] played well [in the Utah game],” NIU Head Coach Thomas Hammock said to NIU athletics in a news release. “We had some explosive plays in the first half, and those play a big role in determining the outcome of the game.”
Big-play capability is something that Bowers brings along with a more vertical passing game. Against Illinois State, he connected with Richie for a 68-yard touchdown, and against the Utes hooked up with Spencer Tears on a 74-yard strike.
Hammock refused to publicly name a starting quarterback during the preseason, instead waiting until just before game time prior to the ISU game. However, Hammock said he had made the decision to go with Bowers over Childers about a week prior.Hammock also said Bowers would be the starter, and he was their guy going forward. Bowers said he’s trying to reward the coaches’ faith in him by giving everything he has, both on and off the field.
"It’s funny how much my identity is tied to being a successful quarterback,” Bowers said. “It’s amazing how happy I am and how good it feels, because I put my life into it. Ever since I’ve come on campus I’ve just sold out. I’ve really gone thinking every single day about how I can help this team win football games. How I can be a better athlete and person."
Bowers’ efforts haven’t gone unnoticed, as he was named one of four team captains prior to the Utah game.
“I was named a captain, and I’d never had that happen before, at least at Cal,” Bowers said. “It’s nice to get the respect I think I deserve given the amount of work I have put in. It’s motivating and inspiring to keep going, because I want these guys to trust me and believe in me."
Bowers said it's nice to know people whose opinion matters are noticing. He said he is grateful for being handed the keys to the offense.
Bowers and the Huskies will face another stiff test next weekend when they travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to take on the University of Nebraska Huskers. Nebraska, which was ranked as the No. 25 team heading into this weekend, fell to 1-1 on the season after a 34-31 overtime loss to the University of Colorado.