To mix sports metaphors, there was no third strike for Manny Bowen.
The senior linebacker’s latest sudden departure from the Nittany Lions, which was announced Monday, did not come as a result of another misstep. It was a choice Bowen made on his own, according to a teammate.
“Honestly it’s not disappointing at all. Manny made the decision to focus on school and that’s it,” fellow linebacker Cam Brown said. “We weren’t really planning on having him back right away, so it doesn’t affect much of what’s going on in the room.”
Indeed, both head coach James Franklin and defensive coordinator Brent Pry had made it clear that Bowen wouldn’t be immediately joining the starting group he had been a part of the last two years.
He had been suspended twice and ultimately dismissed from the team in December before rejoining the roster for training camp at the start of August with the understanding that he’d have to continue working to regain his old spot.
Bowen himself was not available for interviews at the team’s media day at the start of camp and hasn’t addressed the situation on social media. The Instagram account that he used to hint at his return back in June appears to have been deleted or changed.
“It’s like a lot of things that come out and become public,” Franklin said. “No. 1, we love Manny. We want nothing but success for him and his future. I think Manny has a very, very bright future. But for us, we had been kind of working with (the assumption he wouldn’t be available) anyway.
“Again, there’s a lot of details of this matter that you guys aren’t aware of, but it really had not changed a whole lot for us at this point in the season.”
Franklin and the Lions have never gone into detail about Bowen’s suspensions and eventual dismissal, labeling them all “violations of team rules.”
But that isn’t the case this time.
Hypothetically, Bowen’s football career may not be over. Because he was forced into action immediately as a true freshman in 2015 because of injuries, he never redshirted. On track to graduate in December, if he remains at Penn State and gets his degree, he could potentially transfer to another FBS program the following semester and be eligible to play in 2019 as a grad student.
As for the Lions, walk-on Jan Johnson will start at middle linebacker in Saturday’s opener against Appalachian State, flanked by veterans Cam Brown and Koa Farmer.
“I feel like everybody in the room is ready,” Brown said. “Everybody is working hard. … Honestly, we’ve just been stepping it up a notch and going harder in practice. Doing the little things off the field to make sure we’re as healthy as we can be. We’re trying to chip away at everything we needed to improve on.”
Franklin said Brown has "differentiated" himself from the pack at linebacker, but some other young linebackers (true freshman Micah Parsons, true freshman Jesse Luketa and redshirt freshman Ellis Brooks) are pushing for playing time and even starting roles.
Parsons, a heralded recruit from Harrisburg, is pushing Farmer on the outside, while Luketa and Brooks are pushing Johnson on the inside.