Bowers rolled to the tune of 56 catches (most by a Georgia tight end), 882 yards receiving (most by a tight end) and 13 touchdown receptions (most by a UGA receiver). He also tied Bulldogs great A.J. Green for the most receptions in a season by a freshman and, with an additional rushing touchdown, is 11th overall for touchdowns in a season by any player with 14.
When and if Bowers catches a third TD pass this season, he will move into the top-10 Georgia players of all-time touchdown receptions – for a career.
Heady stuff. And, again, completely unexpected.
“I was just kind of out there doing my thing every day, just working hard,” Bowers said of last year’s preseason. “I didn’t really expect much in fall camp last year. It just all happened; happened pretty fast, too.”
Another difference in last year and this year are those expectations. The Bulldogs – and surely their opponents – fully expect Bowers to be an integral part the offense this time around.
That said, it might not be fair to expect Bowers to catch 56 or more passes this season. The thought is that he will share more of the load. The Bulldogs go six deep in the tight-end group, with junior Darnell Washington, sophomore Arik Gilbert and freshman Oscar Delp all carrying the distinction of once being the No. 1-ranked tight-end prospect in the nation.
Georgia also has some exceptional options at the other skill positions. With sixth-year senior quarterback Stetson Bennett back at the controls, unpredictable ball distribution is expected to be one of the Bulldogs’ great weapons.
Bowers doesn’t mind.
“We’re all kind of rooting for each other, supporting each other,” he said. “It’s a really good environment. Everyone kind of wants everyone to succeed. When somebody else makes plays, I’m happy for them; when I make plays, they’re happy for me. It’s a good environment.”
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken is excited about it. Last week, he was asked if he’d been working on any four tight-end formations for the Bulldogs.
Monken said they have, but joked, “If you run it too often, you’ll get every wideout in the portal.”
No, Georgia feels like it has a good representation at receiver, as well as in the backfield. So, it shouldn’t be necessary to deploy all its tight ends at once.
And Bowers proved last season that he can carry a pretty big load all by himself.
Early in the season, John FitzPatrick and Washington were dealing with foot injuries, leaving Bowers to take the bulk of the snaps. He led the Bulldogs in receiving each of the first four games and five of the first seven.
Bowers would score seven touchdowns in those games, including a jaw-dropping 89-yarder against Alabama-Birmingham that saw him outrun the well-angled pursuit of defensive backs.
“We knew he was fast once he could catch-and-run with it, but that was different,” Monken said. “The GPS says one thing on the field, and you think, ‘Hmm, we have to keep trying that.’”
It was about that time that Bowers began to realize something special was brewing. To that point, he was just sort of keeping his head down and trying to get better.
“After the UAB game, I think I really started to settle in and slow down a little bit,” Bowers said. “... I was just kind of taking every game for what it was and working out throughout the weeks. And halfway through the season I looked back and thought, ‘I’m actually doing pretty good.’ I was kind of surprised looking back. But I really don’t feel like I did much special.”
Bowers suffered a shoulder injury in practice a week after the SEC Championship game in December. He played hurt in the Orange Bowl and College Football Playoff Championship game, but still made an impact with touchdown catches in each one.
Bowers’ 15-yard score against Alabama put the Bulldogs ahead by eight points with three minutes to play in the title game.
It wasn’t until statisticians totaled it all up at season’s end that Bowers really realized what kind of season he had. National freshman of the year and All-American honors also were a clue.
Bowers had his shoulder surgically repaired in the offseason and sat out spring practice. He pronounced himself fully healthy and feeling better than ever heading into Season 2.
Like last year, his goals remain the intangible variety.
“Shoot, just to keep working on little stuff in the passing game and just being more physical and striking people in the run game,” he said.
Bowers says “shoot” a lot. He blamed it on his roommates, who happen to be Chaz Chambliss of Carrollton and Brock Vandagriff of Bogart.
A year later, Bowers said he can finally understand what they’re saying. It has all been part of his cultural adjustment.
“They’re like the most Southern-accent-talking dudes, and they’ve rubbed off on me a lot,” he said. “… Sometimes I can’t understand people, like, the accents and stuff. Some of the food, too.”