Commentary

Rhythm serves Bowers on two stages

Clemson DE displays talents on field and as guitarist for gospel band

Originally Published: September 30, 2009
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson sophomore Da'Quan Bowers' quick feet are one of the primary reasons he's considered one of the country's most promising pass-rushers.

But for a long time, Bowers wondered whether he had two left feet, which might have prevented him from following in his father's footsteps.

[+] EnlargeDa'Quan Bowers
Jeremy Brevard/Icon SMI Football isn't Da'Quan Bowers' only love. He's been playing the guitar since he was 4 years old.

Bowers, from Bamberg, S.C., chases quarterbacks as a starting defensive end for the Tigers. On Sept. 19, he had six tackles and one sack in Clemson's 25-7 victory over Boston College at Death Valley, a game in which the Eagles had only 54 yards of total offense.

The next day, Bowers was standing in a church in High Point, N.C., playing lead guitar in one of the country's most popular gospel bands. For the past two years, Bowers has toured with the Legendary Singing Stars, a quartet of musicians who combine traditional gospel music with the choreographed dance moves of R&B bands such as the Commodores.

Bowers' father, Dennis, has been playing with the Singing Stars since 1978. When founding member Tommy Ellison became sick with cancer in 2008, Dennis became the group's front man. He didn't have to look far to find his replacement on lead guitar. Da'Quan had been traveling with the group since he was a toddler and often performed with the band during pre-concert sound checks when he grew older.

"It's always been his dream," Dennis Bowers said. "He's always wanted to be a musician. Besides football, his dream was always to perform with us onstage. But I told him at an early age he'd never get to perform until he mastered the guitar, and not until I thought he was good enough."

The Tigers hope Bowers learns to master his pass-rushing skills, too. After totaling 37 sacks during his four-year career at Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School, Bowers was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the 2008 ESPNU 150 (ahead of Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor and Alabama receiver Julio Jones).

Bowers, a 6-foot-4, 280-pounder, had 47 tackles as a freshman, recording 29 of them in the Tigers' final seven games. This season, Bowers has 21 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack and four quarterback hurries in four games.

"He had his best game [against Boston College]," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "He's got all the talent in the world. One of the things we've challenged him on was being consistent with his effort and disciplined with his assignments and technique. He's still a young player, but he really played like a star … just did a tremendous job for us. Hopefully, that's the start of a great rest of the season for him."

On Sunday, Bowers plans to perform in a concert in Augusta, Ga., the day after the Tigers play at Maryland (ESPNU at noon ET). He once played in front of about 10,000 people at a concert in Florence, S.C.

"I think I've come a long way since last year," Bowers said. "But I'm still a work in progress."

[+] EnlargeDa'Quan Bowers
Da'Quan Bowers for ESPN.comBowers plays with the Legendary Singing Stars as often as he can, including during the football season.

Bowers is still refining his music, too. Dennis started teaching his son to play the guitar when Da'Quan was only 4 years old. When Dennis left home for weeks at a time to perform -- the Singing Stars typically tour for all but three weeks each year and have played in faraway places such as Italy, Germany and Mexico -- Da'Quan watched videotapes of the band and listened to its recordings so he could learn to play.

"My father would be gone weeks at a time," Bowers said. "At one point, my father was gone for so long, I forgot what he looked like. I'd just listen to his music. A lot of his tapes helped me learn to play because he wasn't there."

The Singing Stars are scattered along the East Coast. Band members live in Washington, D.C., Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia. But they're together most weekends, playing at churches and other venues around the country. Ellison, who died in January, formed the band in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the 1950s. Guitarist Sam Williams has been with the band for 52 years, and bassist Franklin "Big O" Hardnett has been with it for 48 years.

The Singing Stars accepted Da'Quan with open arms because his guitar riffs sounded so much like his father's. The Singing Stars needed a fill-in guitarist for a gig about five years ago, and Dennis threw a guitar strap over his son's shoulder at the Dane Theatre in Denmark, S.C.

"That was the first time he ever strapped it on with me," Dennis said. "I just called him up onstage, and that was it. It was a perfect fit. The guys were just amazed how much he sounded like me."

Because of classes and football practice, Bowers doesn't get to play with the Singing Stars very often during the season. But he tries to attend any concert that is close to Clemson. He was there two weekends ago in High Point, N.C., leaving campus with his father a couple of hours after the Tigers played the Eagles. He was back in Clemson about 1 a.m. Monday, then sat in a defense meeting about five hours later.

"There really hasn't been a conflict with classes or football," Bowers said. "I haven't asked for any special treatment to be with the band. My father told me from day one that football was the priority because that's hopefully going to be my career."

Even Swinney has become a fan of Bowers' music. Before a team devotional last year, Bowers and a few of his teammates performed for the Tigers.

Besides football, my life is music. It's been a part of me my whole life.

-- Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers

"That's pretty cool," Swinney said. "We've got a lot of talented guys on this team, and that's something I tell these guys all the time. I really want them to be complete players, complete people. Don't just be known for a guy who sacks quarterbacks. Be a good student, be a good son, be a good friend, be a good citizen. Be involved in your community, things like that. It's great to see these guys take pride in other talents they have."

Bowers said his dream is to play in the NFL. But chances are he'll always have a guitar close by.

"Besides football, my life is music," Bowers said. "It's been a part of me my whole life."

And now that Bowers can put one foot in front of the other, he's a big part of the Singing Stars.

"He knows it all now," Dennis Bowers said. "I always used to tell him, 'Man, you got no rhythm!' But now he has the whole package. He's not bad for a big guy."

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

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