MORGANTOWN - For months, it seemed like he would never see, much less reach, the light at the end of the tunnel. But perseverance and prayer has enabled Brantwon Bowser the opportunity this fall to finally be one of the chosen few Mountaineers who get to run out of that tunnel on football Saturdays.
Bowser, a junior defensive back from Phoenix, Ariz., figures to be in the mix at cornerback at noon Saturday when West Virginia University renews its border rivalry with Maryland. Bowser, a key member of the special teams, gets the chance to hit the field more often now that starting cornerback Brandon Hogan has been suspended indefinitely by coach Bill Stewart.
Hogan was arrested around 3:30 a.m. Sunday by Morgantown police officer, after he was caught driving the wrong way up a one-way street in the downtown area. Hogan was charged with driving under the influence - his second run-in with police in the last six months. He was cited in April for disorderly conduct and public urination, but was not arrested. Hogan has also found himself in Stewart's dog house for not being in shape and was sent to study hall and tutoring sessions before being allowed to take part in spring practices.
PHOTO PROVIDED BY WVU
''I, and I alone, will handle the discipline and the punishment in a fair, firm and strict manner," Stewart said Tuesday. ''He will rejoin the Mountaineer team when I deem fit. It's my job to do more than teach just blocking and tackling. It's my job to prepare young men for life.''
Linebacker J.T. Thomas said the Mountaineers certainly won't give up on Hogan.
''We're a family,'' he said. ''Just because your brother gets in a little bit of trouble doesn't mean you discard him from the family. You wouldn't throw your kid out would you? So it's like you just keep moving on. He understands what he has to do to get back on the team.
''This is another obstacle that will test the character of our team and will test the character of our defense. We need someone to step up. I have to elevate my game. Chris Neild has to elevate his game. Robert Sands. Everybody has to take their game up a notch to fill that void.''
That includes Bowser, who has already handled what life has thrown in his direction. After playing for former Mountaineer Dale Wolfley at Phoenix College, Bowser was being looked upon as a key component for the 2008 season. Unfortunately, he blew out his knee during spring practice, forcing him to be red-shirted for the season. As he was preparing for the 2009 campaign, his appendix burst, forcing him to go under the knife yet another time.
"There were more dark days than there were bright ones," Bowser said. "There were times that I felt it was never going to end. Giving up was never an option. It fueled me to work harder. You have to take the good with the bad."
When frustrations set in, teammates Noel Devine and Jock Sanders were there to lift his spirits. Despite being on opposite sides of the ball and from opposite sides of the country, the three became close friends.
"They kept my head up," Bowser said. "They said to keep working hard. All the surgeries, the ups and downs, they helped to build character."
Stewart said Bowser's battle has been the feel-good story of the season to this point, and the coach gets excited when talking about the hit Bowser laid on Marshall tight end Lee Smith late in the game last week.
"That wasn't a corner(back) hit. That was a safety hit," Stewart said.
"Being on the scout team, I wanted to hit somebody and make it be important," Bowser added. "I love to hit. The whole time I was thinking that I had to make a big play, and that's what happened."
Bowser will battle for playing time with Pat Miller and Broderick Jenkins, though Stewart stops short of calling it an open tryout for the position.
"It's time to walk the walk; it's as simple as that," WVU assistant coach David Lockwood said. "You try to put them in situations where they can have success. There will be times when they will be out there on an island by themselves. It's time to grow up."