SMITH COLUMN: Brock Bowers is UGA’s Captain America

Published 9:30 am Saturday, October 7, 2023

If you talk with Brock Bowers about his passions for hunting and fishing and know nothing about his background, you might take him for a native Georgian. He could hail from Americus, or Valdosta, or Albany. Or perhaps the hills of Habersham. You might assume he has a lot of camouflage hanging in his closet and a pickup truck with a “Support Wildlife” license plate in his driveway.

Instead, Brock arrived in Athens from the faraway outpost of Napa, California. Curiously, he is not into the stuff that makes his hometown famous. (That would be akin to a Vidalian who doesn’t give two hoots about onions?)

“Since I was a little boy,” Brock says, “my dad would take me out with him, and I fell in love with duck hunting and then deer hunting and find that to be an exciting experience.”

Brock has also fallen in love with playing football at the highest level. In fact, it would be hard to find a player with more enthusiasm and respect for the game that took him far beyond his wildest dreams in 2021. 

Several factors were responsible for bringing Brock from Napa to Athens, starting with CBS and ESPN. In the mid-1990s, the two networks agreed to broadcast games from the Southeastern Conference into homes all over the nation. Suddenly, southern football was a Saturday main-stay in talent-rich places such as California. 

When Brock was a budding football star at Napa High School, he could play a Friday night game, celebrate a bit afterward, and still get a good night’s sleep before tuning in to see the next day’s first SEC game at 9:00 a.m. Almost 2,600 miles away, he could feel the intensity of the action at a game in Athens.

When the games came on, he would use his hands to create a furrow in the carpet the length of his living room. That represented a sideline. Then he would toss a ball up and try to catch it as he leaned away from his improvised sideline, as he would need to do in a live game. He became quite good at catching passes while staying inbounds in “Living Room Football.”

Brock’s first trip to Athens came on a day for high school juniors in 2019. He thought it was “cool” that Sanford Stadium was in the middle of campus. Further, he was amazed that one could play big-time college football in such a cozy environment and then go hunting or fishing an hour away. 

He was duly impressed with what he saw on TV when Notre Dame played Georgia in 2019. He remembers it all: stadium lit up with innovative red LED lights, the passion of the fans, and the quality of football. It all made him think it would be nice to visit Athens. And he did, more than once. By the third trip, he announced he would wear red and black.

During one of his stays in Athens, Bowers was introduced to quarterback Brock Vandagriff. The two share a love of the outdoors, but because of their football obligations, they have had minimal chances to squeeze in dove hunting and bass fishing. Ultimately, Bowers would like to hunt quail in Thomasville and go fly fishing and turkey hunting in north Georgia. But those pursuits will have to wait. For now, football is his mission.

Brock hopes to continue playing football as long as he is physically able. He also wants to surpass his level of performance from last year, when many pundits thought him the nation’s best at his position. 

When he was in high school, Bulldog coaches knew Brock was a prospect with promise. But they were cautious in their evaluations. The COVID-10 pandemic forced the postponement of his senior season until January 2021, and by then, Brock had graduated from Napa High School and enrolled as a freshman at UGA.

He went seventeen months without playing in a live football game, and another five months before he played in the 2021 season opener against Clemson. Tight ends coach Todd Hartley had this scouting report on Bowers:

“We saw tape of his junior year and found him to be very impressive. He was versatile, a throwback to an old-school tight end who was skilled and could do a lot of things. He played tailback, returned kicks, played defense, and receiver. 

You could see that he was athletic, that he was tough and naturally gifted with the ball in his hands. He didn’t participate in spring drills because of COVID and we couldn’t evaluate him in camp for the same reason. We were very impressed with his family, his attitude. We knew that he ran a 4:53 forty-yard dash at a camp in Oakland, and that is pretty dang good for a tight end. Then there were the intangibles. He is extremely intelligent and very humble.”

Brock comes from an athletic family, and his parents make every effort to see their son play, despite living so far away. His mother, DeAnna, who works as a math teacher, was an All-American softball player at Utah State and is in the Aggie’s Hall of Fame. His father, Warren, now a partner in a construction firm, played offensive line in football, also at Utah State. Brock’s sister, Brianna, played softball at Sacramento State.

Arriving in Athens in time for the off season conditioning program, Brock ran relentlessly. He was first in all the sprints and also the endurance runs. He didn’t become tired physically or mentally. “You could tell,” Hartley says, “he was really gifted with speed and athleticism.”

What’s more, Hartley adds, “he has good blocking skills and can pass protect.” Anything else? “Oh, yes, he is a very good student.”

While his surname, Bowers, is of Saxon origin, he would fit comfortably with the Greek philosophy of well-roundedness. He expects himself to perform in the classroom as well as on the field. 

He played other sports along the way and finds peace among the woods and streams which someday may get his undivided interest.  

Football and a degree are of such priority that he doesn’t have the time to trout fish in North Georgia and quail hunt in South Georgia, but that day likely will come.

The most redeeming feature about him is his compelling modesty. He is without ego, but is driven with an unrelenting, competitive fire to do his best. The thrill of competition enraptures him, not the ensuing headlines that come with his being the best tight end in the country. 

He is the best tight end ever at Georgia and it is easy to promote him as the best player in the country.  However, it is unlikely that he will win the Heisman trophy which is the domain for quarterbacks and running backs.

Brock is selfless, altruistic and ungrudging. He is given to sharing his NIL income with his teammates. He treats every practice as if it is a playoff game and is always first in line for any drill. He is the ultimate “Good Teammate.” He is the Bulldogs “Captain America.”