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Terps took safety approach with defensive end Keith Bowers
Rapid heartbeat sidelined the sophomore
Nothing went too slow during Keith Bowers' first year at Maryland.
The defensive end was one of the first freshmen to crack the depth chart early last season. Teammate Isaiah Ross' knee injury created an opportunity for Bowers to start the final 11 games. Through it all, Bowers' ferocious effort was unchanged, impressing the Terrapins' staff.
When spring practice arrived, something else was moving rapidly: Bowers' heartbeat.
"The first practice, it was just speeding and I didn't understand what was going on," Bowers said Friday. "I talked to [athletic trainer] Wes [Robinson], because I wasn't tired and it was still speeding. I ended up having an EKG and they found it."
Maryland opted for a cautious approach to the palpitations, shutting down Bowers in the spring's early stages. For a few weeks, he wasn't permitted to do standard cardiovascular exercises, let alone practice. It was something new for Bowers, a Florida native who didn't play football in the spring for the first time since he was in eighth grade.
Eventually, he resumed workouts after Maryland determined there was no danger in allowing him to do so.
"It was surprising," Bowers said. "I didn't know what was going on. Then I realized it wasn't anything that was going to hinder me from playing. They just wanted to keep me safe and keep me out for the spring. My whole mentality was getting back in the summer and trying to get ready for camp."
Naturally, there was nothing sluggish about his return last week. Bowers made 36 tackles (six for loss), including 2.5 sacks a season ago. While those weren't eye-catching numbers, his ability to hold up while playing at 230 pounds arguably was the most noteworthy part of his debut season.
Despite the lost time on the field in the spring, Bowers' size won't be a major concern this year; he said he's up to 260 pounds after a full year in Maryland's strength and conditioning program.
He also finds himself among a glut of defensive linemen after the Terps switched to a 3-4 defense in the offseason. Seniors A.J. Francis and Joe Vellano figure to start at two of the spots, and Maryland welcomes back Ross and Justin Anderson (foot) from injuries.
Bowers entered preseason camp as a co-starter at end with Anderson and Andre Monroe, who started four games at tackle last year.
By the end of last week, Bowers and Monroe were alternating work with the starters and second-stringers.
"He's the guy who's been lost in all of this," defensive line coach Greg Gattuso said. "Guys are talking about Isaiah and Justin because they started here in the past, and everybody knows Joe and everybody knows A.J. But the guy people have forgot about is Keith Bowers. Keith Bowers played a lot of football for a young kid with no experience against Florida State, Clemson. The kid's a battler."
That bodes well for Maryland, which in dire need of a boost after ranking last in the ACC in scoring defense, rushing defense, total defense and third-down conversion defense last season. Gattuso hopes to establish a rotation of at least six and probably seven linemen to ensure no one gets too tired.
That should play to the advantage of the relentless Bowers, regardless of whether he starts.
"He's got as good a motor as I've been around," coach Randy Edsall said. "He's a guy who just goes hard all the time, and there's a spot for him. He's battling Andre, and both those guys will play for us. But I like Keith. I like the things Keith does. He's a guy who wants to do well. He's done well in the classroom, and he's done well out here. We expect him to make plays for us."
The first step was returning to practice. NCAA rules stipulate an acclimation period when teams open camp, and Friday was the Terps' first session in full gear.
It was a day that couldn't come fast enough for Bowers.
"It's been a long time since I got the pads on," he said. "I'm glad to be back."
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About the Author
Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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