Written by Alex Kurial
Photo by Valerie Wutti
OTTAWA, Ontario – Stand along the sidelines of any Ravens football game, or even be sitting in the crowd for that matter, and you are guaranteed to hear one voice rise up above the rest. Tevin Bowen. The boisterous defensive lineman is a favorite of teammates and fans alike, and has lofty goals set for both himself and the Carleton football squad.
It’s been a career year for Bowen so far. Now in his 4th year of eligibility, Bowen finished the regular season fifth on the team with 30 tackles, and third in sacks with three. Under new defensive coordinator Paul Eddy Saint-Vilien Carleton is having one of its best defensive seasons ever, and the team is back in the playoffs.
Off the field Bowen is pursuing his studies in law, with the aim of working with youth in the legal system after school. Splitting time between Loeb Building, Alumni Hall, and of course the football field, all signs are currently pointing in the right direction. But as Bowen will be the first to tell you, this was not always the case, and there were plenty of bumps along the path that finds him where he is today.
Bowen was born in Jamaica, moving to Toronto as a child at the age of six. In Grade 11 he moved about an hour away to the small town of Orangeville, where he would finish high school. Football had been Bowen’s sport of choice from the time he was three, but in this instance it had been the European variety. American football was soon to be on the radar though.
The summer before his final year of high school, one of Bowen’s friends convinced him to try out for a Team Ontario tryout, one of the go to methods for college scouts to recruit new talent in the province. Hesitant at first, the decision to attend turned out to be a defining moment in Bowen’s life path. The skills Bowen displayed at the tryout earned him the attention of several coaches, and brought a new possibility into his life he hadn’t previously considered: the idea of going to college to play football. Bowen was able to enter Carleton through the Enriched Support Program, which starts students on university level courses while transitioning them into a degree program. It got him into school, and, as importantly, onto the football field.
While Bowen shone for the Ravens in his rookie year, success did not come as easily in the classroom. Looking back, Bowen chalks this up partly to a flawed attitude regarding his role as a student athlete. “I played six out of the eight games my first year, started two. So I was like, man I’m the guy,” he recalls. “I thought we were D1 athletes, we didn’t have to do work.”
Student athletes do have to work of course, as Bowen would quickly and bluntly find out. “PSYCH 1000 hit, PSYCH 1002 hit, and I was like whoa, you can fail. And they won’t play you,” Bowen said of that first year. He also acknowledges that he did not maintain or appreciate the support systems he had in place, be it family, friends, or coaches. Bowen found himself academically ineligible to play football in his second year.
Adjustments were needed, and adjustments were made. “I love football, so I did my work,” Bowen simply put it. He had come to university to play football, and dedicated himself to doing the studying necessary to get back on the field. This wasn’t the only factor however. In keeping with his newfound appreciation of his support network, Bowen realized he no longer wanted to put a financial strain on his family if he was not going to put in the effort at school. “I didn’t want to keep losing money, because my parents aren’t rich. So why take an OSAP and have to owe these people thousands of dollars a year just to fail? You can’t keep making the same mistakes. I was sick of it.”
The results were dramatic. In 2016, Bowen’s third year at Carleton, he was back on the football field, and performing well in his classes. By this point Bowen had transitioned into the Criminology program, and had begun to grasp what the student athlete experience fully entailed. A transition like Bowen’s is certainly not achieved alone, and he is quick to note the influence that his various coaches had on him during those difficult first years. One man stood above the rest in terms of support though: the current head coach of the Ravens, Steve Sumarah.
“Sumarah had more chances than I can even count to get me out of here,” said Bowen. “A lot of people gave up on me, especially my first two years. Sumarah said don’t worry. So I’m forever appreciative to that man. He may not even know how I feel about him, but I love that guy.”
He especially credits the players who were part of the 2013 team – the first after Carleton football returned from a 15 year hiatus – for instilling a winning mentality in the locker room. Never wanting to suffer another winless season, the group ensured that every player who came to the program after that would show nothing less than maximum effort in all aspects of the game. This is why last season’s regression to a 3-5 record after three straight years of improvement hit Bowen and his teammates so personally. “We felt disrespected when we went 3-5. A lot of the OG’s, (as Bowen likes to call the original group of Ravens) in their last year they put in too much work to get slapped with a 3-5 record. Going into this year, our mindset was that we need to get our respect back.”
There’s no doubt they have. Carleton finished this season with a 5-3 record, and downed McMaster in the opening round of this year’s playoffs thanks in large part to Bowen’s 6.5 tackles. Bowen points to a renewed work ethic as a key reason for the Ravens earning back that respect.
“The difference this year is there’s no complacency on both sides [offense and defense],” explains Bowen. “From day one of training camp Sumarah said ‘we’re going to work and compete every single day.’ Talent has never been the issue at Carleton, it’s just how hard were we truly willing to go at each other every day to make each other better.” As for his own style of play, Bowen sums it up succinctly. “On the field I want to talk, and I want to bark. We want to go out on Saturday, smash people, win games, and go home.”
This mentality was on display during a crisp Saturday in early October, when Carleton was hosting Laurier at home. An untimely interception had gone against the Ravens. After the Golden Hawks chose to take the opportunity to run by and taunt the Carleton bench, Bowen, and others, were quickly out on the field to take part in the exchange of pleasantries. While cooler heads (aided by the intervention of coaches) would prevail, the moment encapsulates what Bowen has preached about this team. They refuse to be disrespected, and will quickly band together when one of their own needs help.
Bowen has not given up on continuing his football career when his college playing days come to a close. He is hoping for a shot at a regional tryout, where he can go on to impress CFL scouts. Bowen knows the odds are long, but he’s also seen guys he’s played against, (and felt he was better than or on par with,) make their way into the draft. If given the chance, as he has many times before, Bowen is confident he will once again impress.
Barring that, Bowen is intent on pursuing a career where he can positively impact people’s lives. This is one of the main reasons he has now transitioned into legal studies – as a youth Bowen had a run in with the legal system. He was ultimately given a second chance, and now has a desire to return the favor by working with youth in the community to make sure they stay on the right path.
None of this may have been the case if Bowen had not taken the offer to attend a football tryout many summers ago. Now, he cannot imagine his life without football in it.
“If you don’t do your job as one of the 12 men on the field, the whole team suffers. It’s discipline, it’s accountability, it’s teamwork, it’s brotherhood, it’s family,” Bowen says of the game that has shaped him. These are values Bowen seeks to incorporate into his everyday life, and certainly ones that you can see – and undoubtedly hear – on the football field every time he straps on the pads.