Branden Bowen didn’t shed tears like he thought he might Tuesday afternoon, though it would have been understandable if he had.

For almost two years, Bowen has fought to get back to where he was in October 2017. That year, he unexpectedly had won Ohio State’s starting right guard job in training camp and had started the season well. But against Maryland on Oct. 7, Bowen suffered a fractured tibia and fibula in his left leg.

He has not played since.

On Tuesday, coach Ryan Day announced that Bowen would start at right tackle Saturday in the season opener against Florida Atlantic after the fifth-year senior beat out redshirt freshman Nicholas Petit-Frere.

It was news to Bowen, as well. He was in a massage chair at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center when he heard it along with everyone else.

“It's definitely emotional, just seeing the news a few minutes ago,” Bowen said. “It was hard not to break down and cry, because it's been a long road. It's definitely been very, very difficult.”

Bowen had surgery right after the injury, another one to remove a screw and then a third last September after a setback.

Bowen’s fiancee, Kate Lindsey, was candid about the struggles he had. Bowen wanted so much to play one final season with his best friends on the line, seniors Isaiah Prince and Demetrius Knox, she said. Instead, he was stuck on the couch watching.

“I just think it was a lot for a 22-year-old man to deal with, and then knowing he's about to have a son, I think it took a toll on him,” Lindsey said.

Last July, four days after they became engaged, Lindsey learned she was pregnant. Their son, Booker, was born March 21.

“Oh, my God, he's so good (as a dad),” Lindsey said. “Booker is obsessed with him. They're best friends.”

Bowen eased back into action during spring practice. He wasn’t necessarily favored to fend off Petit-Frere, a five-star recruit in 2018, but he has, at least for now.

“He's practicing at a high level,” Day said of Bowen. “And when you go against Chase Young and (Jonathon Cooper) and those guys every day in practice, if you're blocking them, you're doing a hell of a job. He's done that.

“And he's taken a mature approach to this thing. He's shown some leadership. He's more an example guy than a vocal guy, but this is a guy who I think is going to have a great year.”

Bowen said he never lost faith that he would return from the injury. He said having to endure a long recovery proved to be a blessing in disguise.

“I'm happy I went through it,” he said. “It's made me a much better person, a much better player and much better man.”

Lindsey said the setback made him appreciate football even more. She said Bowen didn’t even complain about training camp.

“I've literally never seen him happier,” Lindsey said. “He's constantly smiling, constantly in a good mood, even when he's dog tired. He even texted me at the end of camp and was like, ‘Wow, this went by really quick. Like, I had fun.’ ”

Bowen is excited about being a veteran on the line and mentoring younger players. He is grateful to Petit-Frere for making him push to be the best he can.

“Having the time that I did to start and then having that taken away from me through an injury was eye-opening,” Bowen said. “It really gives you a different perspective on how important it is to value your time that you have. Going into this year, I think I just value everything and everybody around me a lot more.”

He knows he will be emotional when he runs onto the Ohio Stadium field Saturday.

“I’m not going to be thinking about the nerves and all that,” Bowen said. “I'm just going to be thinking about how grateful I am to be back on the field and run out of the tunnel with my brothers and be able to play in that atmosphere.”

 

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

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