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Georgia Football

"The Red Blur" | The Story Behind UGA Football Star Brock Bowers' Return to the Dawgs

November 15, 2023
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ATHENS - UGA Football star Brock Bowers balled his right fist and slammed it into the artificial turf in Nashville. Bowers had tried to walk his way off the field, but he knew he was hurt. 

He had came flying towards the Vanderbilt sideline on a reverse with quarterback Carson Beck blocking for him as best he could (Beck was flagged for holding). Up 14-7, Kirby Smart’s Dawgs were trying to start the process of putting Vanderbilt away after a sleepy first quarter. 

It had been a quiet, nondescript ballgame in Nashville. Georgia was ready to smash Vandy during an 11 AM local kickoff before a week off heading into the biggest game of the year. Everything was going according to plan.

Then Bowers was tackled. There was little sound surrounding the play - Vanderbilt is one of the few venues in the SEC where you can hear very well what is happening on the field during plays - and the sound of silence isn’t what you want to hear.

Bowers got up slow from the tackle and the Vandy 11-yard line, and he was limping immediately. Nothing looked serious until he dropped to both knees by the SEC logo near the Vandy sideline. 

(Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
NASHVILLE - Georgia TE Brock Bowers suffers an ankle injury during No. 1 Georgia’s 37–20 win over Vanderbilt at FirstBank Stadium on October 14, 2023. 

A concerned buzz started in the stadium. Georgia fans wondered what was going on with their star player. Working media on the field rushed through tight conditions to the Georgia sideline to try to get imagery of the now-hurt Bowers. 

The scoreboard in the unfinished end zone at Vanderbilt was hanging - the future of the Dawgs’ best player was hanging in the balance, too. 

No one knew what was next for Bowers, and that was a frightening thing. What Bowers had become on and off the field was not necessarily expected when he signed with the Dawgs in early 2021. By 2023 there was simmering Heisman candidate buzz surrounding him. 

Brock Bowers was often cited as the best player in college football - no matter if he was going to be given an award for it or not.



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“HE’S GOING TO WIN”

Georgia’s staff had not quite been sure how good Bowers was when he arrived in Athens in 2021. The California native had not been allowed to play football the fall of his senior season, and UGA’s staff had not been able to recruit him in a traditional manner because of COVID restrictions. 

Bowers would show the Georgia staff what he was doing to workout. Resting his cell phone on a rock near his home in Napa, Bowers powered up and down the hills in the area. 

“We would challenge recruits to send us videos of them working out,” Kirby said. “He embraced that.”

"He is the ultimate competitor. He doesn’t want to lose in anything. When I give my other guys reps, he gets pissed off," UGA tight ends coach Todd Harley said of Bowers. "He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever met. He’ll be the first one to breakfast. The first one in the training room. The first one in the meeting room. The last one to leave the field. If we do a 1-yard sprint, he’s going to win. The same with a 30-yard sprint. I think that’s what makes him special,"

By August 2021, Bowers had emerged as a very real playmaker in practices for the Dawgs preceding their big matchup against No. 3 Clemson in Charlotte. Compounding the importance of Bowers’ play was starting tight end Darnell Washington’s injury. The Las Vegas native would likely not play in the season opener. 

Bowers would catch the first pass of the game against the Tigers from starting quarterback J.T. Daniels. Bowers made the final catch of Georgia’s season that year, too. In between those two catches everything changed for Georgia - and Bowers was a major reason why.

The final catch of the year, Bowers’ 15-yard touchdown from starting quarterback Stetson Bennett against No. 1 Alabama in the 2022 College Football Playoff National Championship Game, nearly cemented Georgia’s first national title since 1980 (Kelee Ringo would do that a few plays later with his breathtaking 79-yard pick six). 

A year later his near-alien play against Ohio State in the 2022 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl helped get the Dawgs to another CFP National Championship Game

As he went to the sideline after officials ruled him short, Bowers told staring quarterback Stetson Bennett that he thought he had gotten a fresh set of downs. 

“I think I got it,” Bowers said to Bennett. 

“I thought you did, too,” Bennett replied. 

“I saw the ball coming, and I was like: ‘Man, I gotta get the first down.’ I thought that I was a lot further than I was,” Bowers said. 

“He was catching at five yards out, and it was fourth and six,” Bennett said. “People don’t stop him for a yard.”

Dylan Webber / Dawg Post
ATLANTA - Georgia TE Brock Bowers during No. 1 Georgia's 42-41 win over No. 4 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on December 31, 2022 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Bowers stuck his left hand into the turf and seemingly held his entire body up as he gained a first down. 

“I didn’t think it was that close but I am thankful that we got it.” Bowers remembered. “It was kinda crazy the way my foot came up when I went out of bounds. It all kind of just happened. I wasn't really thinking about it in the moment. It is kind of shocking and cool to watch.” 

That was in the midst of a four-quarter rally that gave the Dawgs a 42-41 win over No. 4 Ohio State. A game later No. 1 Georgia throttled No. 4 TCU 65-7 to win Kirby Smart’s second national title in as many years. Georgia was on the brink of a dynasty, and Bowers was a major reason why. That made his injury at Vanderbilt all the more concerning. 

“OH MY GOD. IT’S BROCK”

“It’s an ankle sprain,” Kirby told reporters of Bowers’ injury moments after UGA’s 37-20 win. “Don’t know how severe. X-rayed it, and the x-rays were negative. Looked like it was lower, but we don’t know. Until we get an MRI, we won’t know. We’re thinking about Brock, but I think he’ll be fine.”

Bowers and the Dawgs didn’t dress in a traditional locker room because of the construction in and around First Bank Stadium. Kirby was meeting with reporters in a trailer several yards away from his team’s dressing area. It was a very unique set up. 

“I’ve never had a bye week that came at the wrong time,” Kirby said near the end of the press conference. "I feel great about the bye week. I’m glad it’s here.”

Bowers walked out of make-shift locker room with with fellow tight Oscar Delp onto Natchez Trace. Delp would have an increased role along with freshman Lawson Luckie with the star tight end sidelined. Luckie suffered a similar injury to Bowers’. It was relatively evident that Bowers was likely out for the Dawgs’ showdown with the Gators in the World’ Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. 

But how severe was the injury? How long would he really be out for? 



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Bowers’ family was ready to act quickly. Soon after the game it was decided the tight end would have so-called tightrope surgery. Luckie had just returned from the procedure. Offensive lineman Amarius Mims had just gone through it as well. 

Bowers was eager to move forward - surgery was scheduled for Monday in Birmingham. Monday morning UGA confirmed Bowers was dealing with the injury, and that he would miss time. The statement said in part that the procedure was “to stabilize the ankle and a full recovery is anticipated.”

How long a full recovery would be was the source of much speculation and dozens of questions for reporters from that point forward. For his part, Bowers was attacking his rehabilitation as hard as he could. 

“The guy was icing his ankle like ten times a day like just over and over and over again,” UGA quarterback Carson Beck said. “He wanted to be out on the field. That's the type of player that he is.”

But Bowers would have to work and wait as the Dawgs moved on without him. Bowers did not dress out, but was on the sideline in Jacksonville as the No. 1 Bulldogs for Georgia’s 43-20 blowout of the Gators.

"I just wanted to make sure he rehabs, put my own eyes on him,” Kirby joked after the win. 

A day later Kirby watched as Bowers worked out - witnessing Bowers’ drive to get back on the field. 

“He's the spirit of this team. This guy has been in every meeting. He was in the punt walk through today. He goes to everything. He's front and center - on time - ready to go. And still he gets all his rehab done. That's just the kind of kid he is. And everybody looks to him. We've had other guys get that injury, and they disappear for weeks. They come back. He hasn't missed anything. He loved football. and he loves this team.”

A few days later, Kirby could’t believe his eyes when he saw what he described as “a red blur” while watching practice film. 



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“Brock was hellbent to get back out there,” Kirby told reporters. “I don't know when it was, so don't quote me on it, but I was watching film of practice, and there was a red blur back behind the play I was watching - about 20 yards behind it. It looked like a guy flying across the field, and I was like: ’Who is that?' And I was like, 'Oh my god, it's Brock.' 

“I knew we had a chance then.”

But when would that chance be? No. 14 Missouri was next for the Dawgs, and it was a must-win game for the Dawgs (and Tigers). With a win Missouri would control its destiny in the SEC East - and likely block Georgia from the most direct path to the College Football Playoff. A win for the Dawgs would all but lock up the final SEC East Division Championship. 

The afternoon CBS showdown was part of a doubleheader on that network. Georgia was a heavy favorite, but at the half the game was tied at 10-10. As so often has been the case under Kirby Smart, the second half belonged to Georgia. Nazir Stackhouse’s interception midway through the fourth quarter helped push Georgia’s advantage to 30-21, which wound up being the final score. 

Georgia had ground down another win, and the chatter was about to ramp up about Bowers’ return. 

“YOU DON’T NEED TO HURT THIS WORSE”

The problem that emerged for Bowers’ return was not his ability to run - certainly not in a straight line. The challange was stopping. And that was a major concern because that is a particularly important part of playing football. 

Brock Bowers was all gas - no breaks. 

At first UGA’s head coach was pretty sure Bowers was nearly ready to play before the Missouri game. 

“I literally thought he should be playing,” Kirby said. “But when I saw him struggle to stop, I knew. He didn't have breaks. He ran up on the wall by Stegeman on that side, and I was like: ‘He couldn't stop.’”

Bowers had been working diligently to get back. Sundays are typically off days for players, but not for Bowers, who was using each day to try to get back as soon as possible. From his office in Georgia’s new football facility, Kirby was able to monitor what was going on with his superstar on another Sunday. 

“Every Sunday he goes out, and I look outside my office window, and he's out there running and flying around,” Kirby said. 

Multiple agents contacted Bowers suggesting he preserve his ankle and body for the NFL Draft in the spring. 

"That just drives me crazy. It makes me want to play more to prove them wrong.’ Bowers told Kirby, "Why am I in this game if I’m not going to come back and play?"

“All it did was piss him off,” Kirby said. “Those people will not be representing him, I can promise you that.”

The evidence was there, but things were still up and down for Bowers the week leading into the Ole Miss game. It was relatively clear that Bowers could give it a go, and probably real soon, but how stable was everything?

“He looks he looks pretty good now,” Beck said after the win over the Rebels. “But he was hobbling around a little bit throughout the week.”

Beck said he told Bowers not to overdo things in order to get back too soon. 

“I was like: ‘Look man, just take it easy. You don't need to like hurt this worse.”

Bowers told Beck he was fine. 

“No,” he told his quarterback, “I'm good.”

The two had stepped up to provide the Dawgs their biggest moment of the season so far: a come-from-behind win at Auburn that featured multiple one-handed catches by Bowers from Beck, and the game-winning 40-yard touchdown which pushed the No. 1 Dawgs to a 27-20 win over the Tigers. 

Dean Legge / Dawg Post
AUBURN - Georgia TE Brock Bowers scores the game-winning touchdown during UGA's 27-20 win over Auburn.

“Bowers did what he does. I mean, the guy’s amazing. It’s a wonder why you just don’t go to him every play,” Kirby said after that win. “Who can argue that there’s a better football player anywhere in the country?”

That was the concern as the Ole Miss game approached - it sure would be easier to win with Bowers than without him, and the performance against Auburn in September proved that. 

On Monday and Tuesday Bowers was practicing with the Dawgs, but it was hardly certain he would play against Ole Miss. On Wednesday he scored a few times at practice - once on the exact play he would score on Ole Miss a few days later. Beck shared with some close to him that he thought Bowers was as close to ready has he had been so far, and that he could play that Saturday, and that maybe he would. 

“The crazy thing is is that play - we’ve practiced it for the past like three years and I maybe called it like three times in a game,” Beck said. “But we practice the same route every Wednesday, so for a certain coverage we go out there motion them down they're in the certain coverage. I knew we were about to score.”

By Thursday, Bowers was doing things as usual for that day of the week. He was in a red practice jersey with the No. 1 offense going against the scout team defense. During and certainly after practice on Thursday it was obvious to insiders as well as Beck that Brock Bowers was about to be back. 

“I wasn't actually sure until Thursday,” Beck confirmed. “That’s when we knew he was going to play. Now, we didn't know how much he was going to play, or whether he was going to be limited or what, but he's Brock Bowers.”

SANFORD AT NIGHT

The last time Georgia lost a home game its defensive backs coach was the head coach of South Carolina in 2019. Brock Bowers and Carson Beck were in the middle of their junior seasons in high school. 

Four seasons and two national titles later, Sanford Stadium had become a death trap for opposing teams. No. 24 Texas A&M, No. 7 Auburn, No. 14 Tennessee, No. 8 Arkansas, No. 11 Kentucky, No. 2 Tennessee, No. 20 Kentucky and No. 14 Missouri had all come to Athens and lost to the Dawgs. 

A week before, during Georgia’s critical showdown with Missouri, the afternoon Sanford Stadium crowd was lethargic compared to what it had the ability to be. Missouri was sticking with the Dawgs all game long, but only after Nazir Stackhouse’s near pick six late in the game did the crowd fully show what it was capable of that day. 

On the final Saturday night of the season in Athens, with the Rebels in town and the red lights warming up in Athens, the Sanford Stadium crowd was live. It was ready to explode. Georgia’s student section by the Redcoat Band was packed and rocking well before kickoff. 

For his part, Bowers was warming up - being certain to stretch, catch and run well before the rest of the Dawgs were on the field for regular warmups, which happens roughly 50 minutes before the game. Bowers was working on high-point catches and getting loose more than an hour before kickoff. 

After running around with other receivers who were also getting some early work done, Bowers went back into the locker room. When he got back out into the crisp November night he stretched next to Beck at the front of the Dawgs’ warmup lines. 

Perhaps the biggest crowd eruption of the night was when Bowers was announced as a probable starter for the Bulldogs. Georgia’s student section exploded - the buzz in the stadium was noticeable. 

Then Ole Miss took the opening drive 75 yards down the field and scored. Georgia answered with a 75-yard drive of their own. Ole Miss was stopped at the Georgia 40-yard line on downs, and three plays later UGA was up 14-7. The Rebels then scored after another 75-yard drive to tie it. 

Ryan Kerley / Dawg Post
ATHENS - Georgia TE Brock Bowers scores a touchdown during No. 1 Georgia’s 52-17 win over No. 10 Ole Miss at Sanford Stadium on November 11, 2023. 

The game was tied, but Georgia had not faced a third down. Five plays into the following drive, Beck completed a short pass to Bowers for a 7-yard gain. Three plays later Georgia scored. An Ole Miss three-and-out gave the Dawgs the ball at close to midfield. 

Beck then hit Bowers again - this time for 19 yards. Georgia was rolling. A touchdown at the end of that drive meant that in the first half the Dawgs scored more touchdowns (4) than faced 3rd down situations (2). 

In between scoring drives, Bowers would head to a stationary bike positioned a foot behind the  receivers’ bench. Often he kept his helmet on while riding. One of the biggest challenges was not getting run over by ESPN’s camera truck that travels on the sideline and is situated between Georgia’s metal benches and its famous Hedges. 

Georgia’s red lights have become a fan favorite. The show starts at the break of the third quarter and spills into the fourth. The stadium goes from bright to an eary red fog as music pulses and lights flash. Up 38-14, Georgia’s destruction of No. 10 Ole Miss was nearly complete. 

Georgia fans stay at Sanford Stadium through blowouts to watch the lights. Those that stayed two plays into the fourth quarter saw Beck connect with Bowers for a touchdown on the play they had practiced for years - and connected on with during Wednesday’s practice. 

“To come back that fast and obviously have a huge impact on the game it’s unreal,” Beck said following the win.

Bowers leapt and caught the ball - landing with his left foot between the “O” and the “R” in the end zone painted “GEORGIA”. Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint sprinted from the left side of the end zone to be the first to congratulate Bowers. 

Rosemy-Jacksaint lost the tail end of the 2020 season with an injury. UGA commit and Buford 5-star quarterback Dylan Raiola threw both of his hands in the air to signal touchdown from his front-row seat. Kendall Milton and Dominic Lovett swarmed Bowers after that. Then Amarius Mims, who was playing his first game since his tightrope surgery, joined the party. 

Kirby was the first person to greet Bowers on the sideline. He was followed by Ladd McConkey and fellow tight end Oscar Delp.   

“He’s just different,” Kirby said after the Ole Miss game. “He took a path that no one takes on that injury and said: ‘This is what I'm doing.’”

Dawg Post
ATHENS - The Sanford Stadium crowd during No. 1 Georgia’s 52-17 win over No. 10 Ole Miss at Sanford Stadium on November 11, 2023. 

 

 
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