'Dogged Determination

Nate Sowers

First Nate Sowers had to contend with Pat White. Now it's Darius Reynaud and a 6-8 kid named Wesley Lions. And it's not the he can't do it – it's that he can.

Too athletic and productive to sit the bench, too myriad in uses to slide into one spot. Such is the Catch-22 presented to No. 12. He has the tools, the speed, the 6-2, 205-pound size to play quarterback, linebacker, safety and wide receiver. His quarterbacking days appear over with the backlog of signal callers, and so he has slid into the slot receiver spot for now, competing with guys that have played the spot for years. And it seemed his chameleon approach would be tamed a bit, until he was inserted as a punt returner in Friday's practice.

"It's tough at first, but hopefully I get used to it this spring," Sowers said. "It's mainly the physical part, running around, staying in shape. It's a little more physical than at quarterback, take a three-step drop and throw it. There's some mental toughness getting your body adjusted."

Sowers segues a sigh into a smile when asked about the new position. He has likely heard the inquiry more than anybody else on the team. Former fullback-turned defensive lineman Scooter Berry changed just once. Jeremy Bruce has played tailback and slot receiver and returned a few kicks, but never nailed a return man on special teams – in a New Year's Day bowl game, no less. And the media is making much of John Holmes' move to outside linebacker from (gasp!) spur safety. The two are essentially cousin positions, almost as easily swapped as spur and bandit, a la Eric Wicks. But for an in-state player who played defense while also throwing for 8,515 yards and 113 touchdowns and running for 2,427 and 38 more, respectively, at Martinsburg High, the flips and flops appear to finally be slowing.

Defensive coaches Tony Gibson and Bruce Tall have lost the battle, and probably the war, to head coach Rich Rodriguez, who has sided Sowers on his offense, noting many times that he is "too good and too athletic to watch the game from the bench." Receiver was a natural fit from a mobile, tall, strong quarterback. But punt returner is an entirely different game, one usually reserved for lighting fast corners with a breakneck mindset and the speed and nerve to blow by 11 onrushing defenders.

"I'm telling you, he's a good one," special teams coordinator Bill Stewart said. "It's for real. We are going to use him there. He can play. He has some things to get used to, but he can see time there. We're fortunate to be deep in that area."

Meaning Sowers will have time to develop there. No pressure, what with Vaughn Rivers, Antonio Lewis, Reynaud, Ellis Lankster. The list is long, with experience to match. So, for the first time, Sowers can ease into his new slot – not that that's his style.

"A lot of it is has to do with just being an athlete, not being afraid to go get the ball and getting upfield," Sowers said. "That's what those other guys are great at. They aren't afraid to make a mistake and go get that thing. Once you get it, you get downfield as fast as you can north and south. It's being an athlete and a football player. That's what makes it fun."

And that's what makes Sowers, jack of all gridiron trades, but of yet master of none, able to as well.

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