Branden Bowen’s last two years have been quite the roller coaster.
He became a surprise starter for Ohio State at right guard in 2017, only to break both his fibula and tibia in his left leg against Maryland in the sixth game of the season. After a setback in his recovery, he didn’t play last season.
But now Bowen says he’s as good as new. He also has someone new in his life as added motivation. On March 21, his fiancee, Kate Lindsey, gave birth to a son, Booker.
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“That was an indescribable feeling,” Bowen said. “I wasn’t very emotional before, but as soon as I saw him, it was unbelievable. It’s a whole new level of love and a whole new level of motivation.”
Not that the fifth-year senior needed more incentive after a difficult 2018. He had surgery, which included insertion of a rod, plate and screws, soon after his injury. Bowen knew during training camp last year that his leg wasn’t right. X-rays revealed that a gap in his fibula hadn’t closed and required another surgery.
He said he could have played late last season, but he wasn’t needed. This spring, he is competing with redshirt freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere at right tackle, but he has also seen time at left tackle and back at right guard.
“I feel great,” Bowen said. “I feel more than 100 percent. I’m stronger than I was in 2017. I’m faster than I was in 2017. I feel I’m in the best shape of my life.”
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But he acknowledged that the mental part of his recovery has been tough.
“Physically, it’s a process,” he said. “But mentally, it’s a real battle. You have your good days and bad days. Sometimes you feel you’re never going to get out of it. I went from the highest point of my life to what felt like the lowest point of my life. But it’s a process and I grew from it, and it helped me a lot to be where I am now.”
Though Bowen said his leg feels good, he is still rounding into pre-injury form.
“I don’t think I’m to the point I need to be,” he said, “but it’s spring ball, so I’m OK with that.”
That jibes with the assessment of Ohio State coach Ryan Day and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa.
“I think he’s been solid this spring,” Day said Monday. “I don’t think he’d tell you he’s playing his greatest football because he’s still getting his feet underneath him. But he has a lot of potential.”
Said Studrawa, “I think we’re as close as we’ve been. I think it still tends to get sore on him as we go. But right now, I’ve seen him move, strike, drive his legs like the old Bowen before that injury.”
Though Bowen is not assured of a starting spot, he does revel in his role as a senior leader on a largely inexperienced offensive line.
“It’s huge,” he said. “The future of Ohio State, I guess, depends on how I can help them.”
Bowen has been on the receiving end of some help as he begins fatherhood. Lindsey is from Hilliard, and Bowen said Kate’s mom has been quite helpful. His own mom flew in from Utah to chip in as well.
Bowen said that has allowed him to focus and get the rest he needs to make his push in spring ball. The combination of fatherhood and the urgency of his senior season following his devastating injury has made him more motivated than ever.
“I’ve been through so much worse, so there’s not much more you can do to me to set me back,” Bowen said. “I know no matter what, I’m going to fight through whatever comes up, and I’ll be the best me.”