Georgia Bulldogs’ freshman Brock Bowers a coast-to-coast hit

Georgia football-Oregon-2022-Week 1

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Georgia tight end Brock Bowers scores one of his 11 touchdowns this season, this against Charleston Southern in late November. “Curtis Compton /”

NAPA, Calif. – There wasn’t a whole lot in the wispy sports section that DeAnna Bowers had set aside. But what was there was prime. Worth keeping for posterity, really.

The front-page headline in the Napa Valley Register - “Bowers Grabs All-SEC, All-America Honors” - called out in a rather loud and excited font.

Newspapers may shrink, but the stories they tell thankfully don’t.

Bold type has broken out all around Georgia freshman tight end Brock Bowers this season. Yet his family, some 2,500 miles west of Athens here at the gateway to northern California wine country, still grapples with the message. Wonder mixed with disbelief makes for a superb, heady blend that pairs well with football.

“You look at that,” DeAnna said last week, nodding to the paper, “and say, somebody’s kid is doing really well.

“Then you have to remind yourself, ‘Wait, that’s our kid.’”

Certainly, Bowers has been a revelation for Georgia fans. From the opening game at Clemson when he had a team-leading six receptions. To the most recent contest against Alabama, when he was the best thing the Bulldogs had going in a loss, setting a SEC Championship game record with 10 catches.

Bowers had come from outside the comfort zone of the southern football following, from a place rich in cliches and misunderstandings about cabernet and brie and a general casual attitude about a game that we in the right-hand corner of the country know to be as important as water, air and a hip flask on Saturday. These people do realize you get after football, hard, right from kickoff, that you don’t uncork it and let it breathe, right?

Little could we know that when Bowers enrolled early in 2021, the Bulldogs had in the fold just another pickup-driving, hunt-anything-that-moves good ol’ boy who loves him some ‘ball.

How much does he love it? Well, his mother thought Brock might have broken the kitchen counter after he heard about the state of California canceling his senior season at Napa High because of COVID-19, so fiercely did he slam his fist in frustration.

Bowers’ relationship with the sport is obvious to those of Georgia persuasion now. Finishing the season with a team-leading 791 receiving yards, with 11 of his 47 catches for touchdowns, Bowers got himself named SEC Freshman of the Year and placed on various All-American and All-SEC teams. And forever will his name be linked to the vision of a 6-foot-4, 230-pound tight end running down the middle of the field at Georgia Tech, Yellow Jackets defensive backs seeming to have an angle on him yet still losing ground on every step toward the end zone.

Just as Bulldogs fans had much to learn about Bowers – and they had to do it without the benefit of hearing from him, given Kirby Smart’s interview blackout of all freshmen – so did his people. These were not the kind of parents filled delusions that their child was born for Canton, Ohio. Warren and DeAnna met at Utah State, where he was a center on the football team and she a pitcher and first baseman on the softball squad. They have a practical, first-hand relationship with athletic ability. And that meant they had questions before their boy left wine country for the faraway SEC.

The parents of Georgia tight end Brock Bowers - DeAnna (left) and Warren Bowers - and the corner of their Napa, Calif., home dedicated to the athletic exploits of their son and daughter. (Photo by Steve Hummer)

Credit: Steven Hummer/

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Credit: Steven Hummer/

How would Brock handle the jump from a middling high school program – one that went dark his senior year, and one that had been sapped by a hazing scandal just as he was entering ninth grade – to a college program with national championship aspirations?

His had been a completely immersive northern California upbringing. Why, there’s a giant redwood not 50 yards from his front door. How would Bowers acclimate to such a foreign setting as Georgia?

Was he really good enough?

“I’m thinking he’s going to an SEC school, all right, maybe he’s running down on a couple kickoffs. Maybe he’s on special teams,” said his father, Warren.

The answers all have come back positive. Still, there’s a cautious attitude at work that seems to have served Brock well. No one conceded anything. Nothing was taken for granted nor deemed an entitlement. And that still plays well today.

Said Nathan Kenion, the local trainer who began working with Brock in eighth grade and pushed him out on the national 7-on-7 circuit: “Why I gravitated toward Brock and his parents is they were never like, our son is the greatest. Warren was like, ‘I know my son is good in Napa, but this is Napa.’ He was always kind of blown away how his son played outside of the realm of where he was from.”

Brock certainly had the gene pool working for him – as did his sister, a collegiate softball player. One of his parents is even in their college’s athletic hall of fame.

“That’s not a good topic,” DeAnna said, laughing.

“It’s relatively irritating because it gets brought up a lot,” Warren added. “Everyone thinks someone brought everything to the table, and it wasn’t me. I’m reminded of that a lot, by a lot of people.”

So, you get the idea which one here is in the Utah State Hall? And maybe who takes credit for passing along the kind of eyebrow-arching speed Bowers showed in the Tech game?

The kid always had the innate competitiveness needed to thrive on the field. As a 5-year-old soccer player he once had to be pulled from a game after running himself to the point of near breathless collapse trying to chase down a kid who took the ball from him. Playing both ways at Napa High – in fact, Notre Dame initially offered him as a linebacker – you practically needed a court order to get him out of the game. That reminded his mother of the night she considered calling 9-1-1 after one game when her exhausted son was locked up in cramps on the living-room floor.

Trainer Nathan Kenion at his San Francisco Bay Area gym. Kenion has worked with Georgia tight end Brock Bowers since Bowers was an eighth-grader. He was one of the first to really spot Bowers’ potential. (Photo by Steve Hummer/AJC)

Credit: Steve Hummer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Credit: Steve Hummer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

It was Kenion who offered the Bowers family an initial hint of what could be possible for Brock. When he first met Brock as an eighth grader at a tryout for the 7-on-7 program, Kenion took one look at tall, slight, curly-haired, specimen before him and wondered, “Is this kid a swimmer?” Then he saw Brock run – smooth, uncommonly graceful and fast – and the angels sang.

Kenion was high on Brock then: “In eighth grade I told his dad he’s going to be one of the top recruits in the nation by the time his turn comes.”

And even higher on him now: “I’ve compared him to Kelce (Kansas City’s Travis) – and I still think he’s a little different than him.”

The premonition of intense recruitment came true. No matter the distance, the Bulldogs were on Brock early – it became something of a joke among DeAnna’s math students at Napa every time Georgia tight end coach Todd Hartley showed up to visit. “Oh, here’s Georgia again,” they’d say.

As Brock looked around the big wide world of college sport, he knew what he didn’t like. Big-city schools such as Washington, USC, UCLA were out. He is small-town at heart and prefers the open spaces of a pond and a duck blind in hunting season, a pursuit his father fostered. Some programs slept on him. Others didn’t come up with the game plan goods, not showing a willingness to deploy him all over the field as Georgia has – in tight, in the slot or out wide.

His coach at Napa, a former Penn State defensive back, had hoped his guy would end up in Happy Valley. Alas, said Askari Adams, “I remember when he came back from visiting Georgia, he just loved it out there. Georgia checked almost every danged box he was looking at – the hunting, the good football, that atmosphere, the country life.”

“(Brock) was like, I can’t stay out west; it’s just not the same,” his father said. “He wanted to play on the biggest stage.”

“We don’t do football like that, it’s just different out here,” his mom added. “He wanted the Dawg Walk. He wanted that tradition, and he told me he wanted to compete with the best people.”

The life of a bi-coastal football family isn’t easy. Warren, a partner in a construction firm, and DeAnna, a teacher on sabbatical, made the commitment of at least one of them being at every Georgia game. She estimates she’s made 15 cross-country round trips this year and Warren just a handful fewer.

When recruiters called Kenion, he’d tell every one of them that if you sign Brock, you’re getting a gift. “He’s everything you’re looking at on paper – and then you’re not getting the prima donna or the attitude.” (Here’s commitment: His mother tells of Brock turning down a relatively low-paying NIL gig with Tom Brady’s clothing line because it would interfere with his game-week prep).

The guys at Firehouse No. 5 in Napa, Calif., show their support for hometown tight end Brock Bowers of the Georgia Bulldogs. (Contributed photo)

Credit: Steven Hummer/

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Credit: Steven Hummer/

Such a big noise Brock is making at Georgia that they’re hearing it all the way out in California Wine Country. On the Monday after a Bulldogs game, Adams found his kids at Napa High going over highlights. His parents now hear from friends and neighbors who before probably thought SEC stood only for Securities and Exchange Commission but now talk like they’re related to Vince Dooley. The crew at Firehouse Station House No. 5 in Napa has gone as far as to borrow a Georgia “G” flag from the Bowers family and pin it up in their weight room.

You want truly disorienting experience, get off a phone call with Napa Fire Captain Joey Oliva and have him sign off with a, “Go Dawgs.”

Brock has inspired plenty of glad wonderment throughout Georgia’s traditional range. That now extends to the Napa Valley as well. Seems they do raise more than sommeliers in these parts.

Said Adams, the high school coach, “I’m not going to sit here and say I knew he could do this. Did I think he could be competitive and do well? Yeah. But I never imagined him exploding this early and doing so well because it is the SEC. For a true freshman to come out and do the things he’s doing, I never saw that coming. Damn, right from the first game.”

His father remembers a lot of conversations with Brock that followed the themes of staying humble and keeping in mind there’s always somebody out there who just might be better. “I kind of downplayed that he was any good, to tell you the truth. Because I didn’t know how good he was,” Warren said.

“We had no idea it would be like this,” he said. “It’s overwhelming.”