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October 8, 2008The smile on his face as he walked off the field in the Swamp in Florida after Ole Miss upset then No. 4 Florida said it all.
Chris Bowers was glad he came back for this fifth season at Ole Miss.
"That win in Florida, it definitely made it all worthwhile," Bowers said recently after a practice. "Just going down there, getting that win, it was such a great feeling."
It's a feeling that not only Bowers, but the remnants of David Cutcliffe's last class, have seldom experienced. Along with Bowers, Jason Cook, Terrell Jackson, Maurice Miller, Dustin Mouzon, Jamarca Sanford and David Traxler have seen three head coaches over the last four years as signees in Cutcliffe's last recruiting class signed in February 2004.
Those seasons were enough to cause any player to give up. During Bowers' four years in the program before this season, Ole Miss had won only 14 games going back to the 2004 season while losing 32.
When Ed Orgeron was fired late last November and Houston Nutt's name quickly surfaced as a replacement, many players were evaluating their options for any early departure - which is somewhat of a typical initial reaction by players when any coaching change takes place - either out of loyalty to the former staff or fear of not fitting into a new coach's scheme.
For Bowers, when the change was announced, he probably smiled almost as big as he did when walking off the field in Florida.
"I was recruited by Arkansas and had a lot of respect for coach Nutt and the staff over there," Bowers said Sunday after practice. "I didn't care too much for Arkansas, but I loved the idea of getting to play for those coaches because I have so much respect for them."
It's been a situation where Bowers had it pegged exactly right in that he'd be playing for a more player friendly coach and that he could help the team in his final year of eligibility.
"This is such a great staff," Bowers said. "They care about you as a person and want to make you a better player. I've never had any second thoughts about coming back. I'm enjoying football for the first time in a long time. It's great just to do whatever I can to help this team win. The game is fun again."
Despite playing for three head coaches, four defensive coordinators and two experiments at linebacker after coming out of Shreveport, La. as a heralded recruit in 2004, Bowers is turning in what may be his best season for Ole Miss.
Playing on all special teams and seeing his playing time increase at defensive end, Bowers has 13 tackles including two for a loss for the Rebels and perhaps his best showing came against Florida where he had just two tackles, but could be seen on many plays putting pressure on Gator quarterback Tim Tebow.
Bowers, who ranked as the No. 20 defensive end nationally coming out of high school, had offers from Stanford, Nebraska, Colorado, and Texas Tech but picked the Rebels
However, injuries and constant coaching changes have resulted in Bowers' career not taking off the way he or the Rebel fans would have preferred.
After going through his first season under Cutcliffe and defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach, he spent the next two seasons with Ed Orgeron as the defensive coordinator before Orgeron gave way to journeyman defensive coordinator John Thompson last season.
He was redshirted in 2004, and played in just seven games in each of the 2005 and 2006 seasons due to injuries. He had 12 tackles including one for a loss in 2005 and followed that with an 18-tackle performance in 2006 that included four tackles for a loss and one sack.
The fact that Bowers is playing at all this season is somewhat surprising considering a number of factors that included his injuries, the staff change, and the fact that he didn't have to play to stay on scholarship to get his degree - he graduated last May.
Perhaps playing time and a less than ideal relationship with the former staff pointed to it being his last year in 2007, and it may have indeed been, had it not been for the coaching change.
Last year, Bowers had just two tackles in two games and was relegated mostly to special teams after an early fall camp experiment had him trying his hand at linebacker because Ole Miss was so short at the position. Ironically, the current staff tried the same experiment last spring and Bowers came out at the top of the depth chart playing in the middle, but he was returned to his natural position on the defensive line this fall.
"I suppose if I had time to adjust to the position, I might have been able to play there and would have been all right with it," he said. "But I've always been a defensive end and that's where I'm most comfortable."
He also appears comfortable on special teams, whether it's rushing down to cover a punt or blocking on the receiving team - No. 52 (he changed his number this year from No. 95) can almost always be seen in the middle of action.
And, despite the Ole Miss defensive line re-gaining its health where Greg Hardy has returned at defensive end and Marcus Tillman has returned from playing inside (at tackle), Bowers' time on the defensive line has increased since early in the season.
While Bowers is happy with his decision to return for his final season, he's not happy about the Rebels three losses - which came, in large part, due to turnovers - not from being bested by the better team or being outplayed. His focus now is on the remainder of the season.
"It's the middle of the season and we can regroup and finish strong," he said. "One of our goals was to go to a bowl game and we want to do that."
"I want to make the most of it and do whatever I can to help the team," he said about the Rebels final six games "Whatever they ask me to do, I'll do it. I just want to win."