The first thing you notice about Ryan Bowman is his arms are massive, each one almost as big as his head.
Except that Bowman doesn't have an oversized noggin, one covering an enlarged football ego.
He's just a down-and-dirty, no-frills senior outside linebacker for the University of Washington who makes it seem like he's played forever for the Huskies because, well, when you add it all up, he has.
"I think he's like 40 years old now," defensive coordinator Bob Gregory quipped.
The 6-foot-1, 280-pound Bowman returns for his sixth season with the Huskies, taking advantage of the pandemic free pass to go out on better terms as a college player than he did last season.
Because of the raging virus that shut down the UW 2020 football season after four games, Bowman played in just two outings. That wasn't nearly enough for him say goodbye.
"I probably took a week and a half to think about it and weigh all the different options," he said of his return to the UW. "But at the end of the day, it was a pretty clear decision."
Since coming back, however, Bowman has watched disconcertingly as his leading running mates at outside linebacker have left him because of different circumstances of misfortune.
First Laiatu Latu had to quit the game after playing just one season at Washington because of a neck injury that required surgery. Next came Zion Tupuola-Fetui, Latu's replacement who ruptured his Achilles heal after a first-team All-Pac-12 season and likewise underwent a surgical procedure that likely will make him miss the season.
That leaves Bowman to find an adequate bookend replacement to line up opposite him, someone who can do what he and the others have done. Blow past helpless blockers. Make opposing quarterbacks squirm. Wreak havoc.
This person will have to come from among Sav'ell Smalls, Cooper McDonald, Jeremiah Martin, Bralen Trice and Jordan Lolohea, all players who receive a fairly strong endorsement from the veteran starter.
"Every dude that we have in there has the ability to play college football,” Bowman said. “We don’t have dudes in there where you’re like, ‘OK, why is this guy here?’ Every dude in there can ball. It’s just a [matter] of dudes coming along mentally. But we’ve got a lot of dudes. Cooper McDonald is an extremely hard worker and a really talented kid. Bralen is really talented. Jeremiah is really talented. Jordan, Sav’ell, all those dudes can play."
As things turned out, he played with the fun-filled, turnover-minded ZTF for just two games, not nearly enough to build lasting memories.
"It's just sad," Bowman said. "You hate to see things like that happen, especially to a dude who just loves the game of football and to know that for the remainder of these practices I don't get to have him on the field opposite me."
As he finishes a career that will match the number seasons that the departed Chris Petersen served as the Husky football coach, Bowman will be out to match or exceed his 2019 season in which he was named as a second-team All-Pac-12 choice. It's one in which he came up with 34 tackles, including 9.5 tackles for loss, of which 5.5 were sacks.
Bowman deserves credit for his longevity and also his creativity as a Husky football player, with the possibility of catching on with the NFL at some point. This past March, he reached out to the Los Angeles Rams' Aaron Donald, who carries his exact dimensions, and worked out with him back East just to see how the best in pro football gets it done.
"It was just really cool to see him in person,” Bowman said. “I expected him to be massive, but it seemed like he was the same size as me. That made me feel better about the work he’s put in. And watching him work that day and seeing how hard he works, it’s no surprise to see where he’s at. That gives me hope, to know that working that hard day in and day out, you can achieve great things.”
Whether he's the protege or the role model, Bowman, with his innate desire and those huge arms of his, should be able to wrap them around many more quarterbacks, including some in the NFL.
Follow Dan Raley of Husky Maven on Twitter: @DanRaley1 and @HuskyMaven
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