EDMONTON — At age 31, one-time football wild child Adarius Bowman now runs his routes like he lives his life: with more care and precision, looking back only as a way to improve moving forward.
And no dwelling on the “what ifs.”
“I’ve found purpose. I’ve matured. I made mistakes. I understood the mistakes and tried to fix them,” Bowman said Thursday after Edmonton Eskimos’ practice at Commonwealth Stadium.
“I was a boy 10 years ago, but I consider myself a man now.”
The lanky slotback from Tennessee begins his 10th CFL season Saturday when Edmonton plays the B.C. Lions in Vancouver.
Bowman is at the top of his game. He has led the league in receiving yards in two of the last three years.
In 2016 he topped everyone with 1,761 yards on 120 catches.
Life is good. In the off-season, he signed a two-year extension that will pay out, in bonuses and salary, $665,000 when he turns 33 in July 2018.
He got married last week.
He’s applied for Canadian citizenship and has established a non-profit agency to help raise money for kids with autism.
On the field, he is focusing less on overpowering the defence and more on taking what they give him, running better routes.
“Every difficult catch I’ve made it was somewhere earlier in the route, that I could have not made it so difficult,” he said.
“That’s something I’m trying to hone into and pay attention to, doing things right, making it better, making it easier for me so I could play longer … understanding the process, taking less hits.
“I understood the game now. Rather than looking at the play and thinking I only have a post (route), I started taking in the whole (pass game) concept and realizing how much space we have to work.”
Bowman understands the route not taken.
Born in Chattanooga, he was a high school star in basketball, track and football, and was recruited to play at North Carolina in 2004.
It didn’t go well.
He missed classes, was late for meetings and then got hit with a misdemeanour marijuana possession charge after a raid on a party. The charge was later dismissed and Bowman moved on to star as a receiver at Oklahoma State.
He looked to be a lock for the NFL draft in 2008, maybe even the top two rounds, some whispered.
But once again it all went to seed. He got injured, underwhelmed at the Senior Bowl and at NFL combine, then got hit with another misdemeanour marijuana possession charge ($250 fine).
The NFL dream was over. He went undrafted, packed his bags and came north, with stops in Saskatchewan and Winnipeg. He played well in Regina but was the victim of a deep receiving corps and got dealt to the Bombers.
In Winnipeg, there were too many dropped balls and he got cut.
His next, and perhaps last stop, was Edmonton in 2011, where he finally found his groove and hasn’t looked back.
But in that time he has seen other teammates leave to try to realize the dream of playing in the NFL.
Does he wonder might have been?
“I reflect on my life. That’s the only way I can get better,” he said. “I think about it. The what ifs. Did I ever feel it was my talent? No. Was it some of the decisions I made? Yes.
“If I had the mindset I have (now) back then, there would be no if. Y’all wouldn’t know Adarius Bowman here because I would’ve went to the NFL and whatever path they would have given me. Can I sit here today and say it was (for the) best? I can’t say that. I can’t.
But who knows.
“Possibly I go to the NFL and I don’t get 10 years. Possibly I go to the NFL and I’m not as happy as I am right now … and I don’t find the wife I have now in my life and the brothers I have (on the Eskimos). I got purpose now, as a man, as a husband, as player. I’m not just one thing.
“I couldn’t imagine changing what I have. I love who I am today.”