SALT LAKE CITY — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham doesn’t want to paint a picture of linebacker Manny Bowen as some sort of renegade who had to change his ways. He insists the graduate transfer from Penn State has fit in very well this spring.
“Everyone that comes into the program becomes us. That’s how we are. Maybe it’s not unique to us, maybe everyone is that way, but we have a standard,” Whittingham said. “We have a way of doing things, just how we handle our business. People coming into the program, they kind of get sucked up into that current and just do things the way we do them here.”
Bowen, a 6-foot-2, 231-pound senior from Barnegat, New Jersey, had some problems at Penn State. He was suspended for the 2016 Rose Bowl after an undisclosed violation of team rules. Another suspension — for similar reasons given — came in 2017. Bowen missed the final three games of the season and was ultimately dismissed from the team prior to the Nittany Lions’ appearance in the Fiesta Bowl.
Although Bowen was reinstated for 2018, he ultimately opted to not play in order to focus on his academics and graduate.
"We love Manny," Penn State coach James Franklin told reporters at the time. "We want nothing but success for him and his future. I think Manny has a very, very bright future."
Then came the decision to enroll at Utah. Whittingham said Bowen has been making plays ever since he joined the Utes.
“Manny Bowen has been as advertised,” Whittingham noted. “He’s all over the place.”
As for Bowen’s past, Whittingham is confident things will work out. He described him as a really good kid who made some not-so-great decisions earlier in his life.
Now, with a possible NFL career weighing in the balance, Bowen is determined to finish his collegiate career on a high note.
“For this season, obviously, there are big goals in mind. But right now my main focus, what I need to do, is prove myself to me,” Bowen said. “That’s all I’m really worried about this year, is proving myself to me — know what I’m capable of, knowing what I can overcome. If I prove myself to me, I’ll prove to everybody else.”
Bowen added that he has the highest expectations for himself. As such, if he’s content with what he does out on the field at the end of the day he’s sure others will be, too.
“I’m excited. I love this group. I love this team,” Bowen said. “I’m grateful for this opportunity.”
Since arriving at Utah, Bowen said he’s spent a lot of time in the film room. He’s determined to learn both linebacker spots in the scheme. Everything is coming along great, Bowen continued, assimilating to a defense that he considers a perfect fit because of its swarm mentality.
“To get him here is unbelievable and we’re really glad to have him,” said Utah linebackers coach Colton Swan, who mentioned that Bowen is a great player and comes from a line of success at Penn State.
While with the Nittany Lions, Bowen made 134 tackles over 35 games (including 21 starts). He said the Utah defense is really similar.
“It’s kind of hard to compare the two,” Bowen added. “It’s just football at the end of the day.”
Bowen, though, characterized Whittingham as a general who runs a very tight ship. He added that everyone is on board.
“The work ethic here is incredible and guys are going to push you to get the most out of you. The coaches have been great. Without them, this would have been a very difficult transition,” Bowen said. “But it’s a family atmosphere here and they all comforted me, brought me in and got me around the guys. I was really able to get settled in.”
Bowen noted that Utah’s linebackers give each other feedback and the constructive criticism makes each other better. Everybody is a key part of the success.
“Manny is a battle-tested type of guy. He’s been starting at Penn State for three years and to have the amount of passion he still has for the game in unbelievable,” said defensive end Bradlee Anae, who noted that some guys tone things down, having been through almost everything. “But Manny has that passion. Everybody knows he’s a playmaker and he’s going to be a good addition to our defense this year.”
Bowen made an immediate impact with an interception early in Utah’s first spring scrimmage. Defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley was impressed.
“It was exciting to see, particularly because our zone drops have not been great up until this point,” he said, praising Bowen’s ability for pattern reading and pattern matching. “Being able to get that takeaway was nice.”
Utah’s past also has an appreciation for Bowen. Former linebackers Chase Hansen and Cody Barton, who led the Utes in tackles last season and are now preparing for the NFL Draft, have heard good things. Bowen and BYU transfer Francis Bernard are projected to be the starting linebackers for the Utes next season.
Hansen said that one thing the defense never lacks is talent. Barton is optimistic about the future.
“Manny’s coming along. The biggest thing I think for guys to learn at Utah on the defensive side is, you better run. We run a ton at Utah on the defensive side,” Barton said. “So you can tell it’s the newest thing for him to learn. It’s almost excessive how much we run. But he’s coming along. The whole linebacker crew looks good and so they’re going to be great.”