Editorial Note: This story served as the Flames Illustrated football game day program senior feature story for Liberty's home game against VMI on Nov. 2. Bowden has served as the Flames starting punter for the past two seasons after transferring from Virginia Tech. He earned Big South all-conference honors in 2012, was named Big South Special Teams Player of the Week on Sept. 9 earlier this season and averaged 38.0 yards per punt as a senior.
Every time Grant Bowden steps onto the football field, he faces a choice.
He can focus on the lights, the crowd and the noise of the game environment. He can focus on the players – returners, coverage and potential blockers. He can focus on the pressure of the moment and any nerves that might accompany a uniquely singular job within the team sport of football.
Or, he can simply focus on the punt. "Punting's an interesting thing. It's like a mind game, really – about trying to be as level as possible. It's all about the mental aspect and not letting outside things distract you," Bowden mused. "You have to get your mind completely clear so that even though you're out there and you have [thousands] of people watching, it's just like – silence."
He paused, searching for words, then shrugged. "It's weird. I can't even describe the feeling."
Such focus in the face of many options has seen Bowden achieve plenty of success throughout his athletic career. During the 2012 season alone, the punter earned Big South all-conference second team honors and finished the season ranked second in conference with a punting average of 39.4 yards.
"Grant really takes a lot of ownership at what his position is – a big execution position," stated offensive coordinator Aaron Stamn. "He handles it well. He understands what his role is, what we need from him and he works hard at it. He's trying to perfect his craft every day that he's here."
The gridiron, though, is far from the only place he must make important decisions. Bowden has long been a man of many choices, and in just about every aspect of his life.
He was recruited out of high school for two different sports – men's rowing and football – by multiple colleges.
Settling on punting over rowing was his first call. It was a natural decision for Bowden, something of a family tradition. Older brothers Chris and Brent were both punters; Chris at Florida State from 2000-2005, Brent for Virginia Tech from 2005-2009 and then briefly in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
"With Chris, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden ended up calling and he ended up at Florida State, and then with Brent the same thing happened – Pete Carroll and people like that showing up at your house," Bowden recalled. "We're all four years apart, and it just kind of became our thing – we all started kicking."
After the departure of the Maryland's special teams coach, Bowden elected to follow Brent to Virginia Tech. It was there that Bowden made the most important choice of his life.
"My brother invited me to this thing called ‘share time,'" Bowden explained. "It was basically the team Bible study, and it was there for the first time that I really heard about who Jesus was and what the gospel message meant. Over time I started meeting with the team chaplain and eventually gave my life to Christ."
Bowden and the chaplain, Johnny Shelton, have maintained their relationship over the years. Shelton is now the chaplain for the Baltimore Ravens, but remains an influential part of the punter's life.
"Oh, Grant's my boy," said Shelton warmly. "He came into college as a shy little freshman, and once he got involved in discipleship he literally grabbed ahold of the Word and applied it to his life. He gobbled it up."
It was also Shelton who pointed Bowden to Liberty when the punter faced yet another significant crossroads.
"I was blessed to graduate [from Virginia Tech] in 2.5 years with a finance degree, and when I was graduating I had to make a decision about what to do next," Bowden remembered. "Johnny told me about Liberty and about the seminary program here and said, ‘Why don't you just apply?' So I ended up applying and got accepted. I talked to Coach Beamer about it and then made the decision that I was going to come to seminary here."
The program, as well as Liberty's overall mission, environment and values, aligned with Bowden's own passion for the Lord – which, like the punt on the field, has become his singular focus off of it.
"Grant Bowden is probably one of the most godly men I know," declared long snapper Richard Wright of his fellow special teams specialist. "His leadership, his walk with Christ, what he builds other relationships off of – he's a great guy."
Shelton agreed, voicing pride in the growth in the leadership and evangelistic aspects of Bowden's faith throughout his time at Liberty.
As he wraps up his collegiate career, Bowden is confronted with yet another set of decisions to be made regarding his future. What does the next season of his life hold? With seminary already completed and his second master's degree in the works, Bowden admitted he's not completely certain.
"Right now, I put a lot of pressure on myself just trying to figure out what my next step is. I have a lot of passion for a lot of different things – even just my love for sports, there's a lot of different avenues I could go down," he relayed.
But just as quickly as he trains his concentration on kicking under the Williams Stadium lights, Bowden shifts his focus from the unknown and zeros in on the ultimate constant in his life – his faith.
"I'm just figuring out what God has for me and where I'm going to go," he stated matter-of-factly.
With a track record like Bowden's – punting and personal life alike – there is no doubt he'll make a good choice. ------ Ryley Rush is a Liberty University junior and is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics
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