STILLWATER â€“ Not once, not twice, but three times during the same postgame interview Saturday, Bo Bowling gulped back tears.
The tears of a joyful recovery.
Bowling is back â€“ back from his self-inflicted exile due to a 2009 arrest on drug charges; back as a productive person; back as a productive player after his days as a Cowboy appeared dead.
All that seemed to rush up on Bowling Saturday, there in the west end zone auditorium inside Boone Pickens Stadium, as he happily answered questions about Oklahoma State's big win over Baylor. A big win he had a big part in, which is becoming more and more common in this magical Cowboys season.
â€œComing back and getting back to where I'm at, it's huge,â€ said Bowling, a wide receiver who ranks third on the team in catches and yards. â€œBig for me and big for my life.
â€œI'm proud to be here and I'm proud to be a part of this team.â€
None of it seemed possible as recently as last spring.
After an arrest in February of 2009, Bowling faced felony and misdemeanor drug charges, including a damaging count of â€œintent to distribute a controlled substance.â€ Bowling eventually accepted a plea deal that reduced all charges to misdemeanors and removed the intent-to-distribute count.
Still, there were repercussions that soiled his reputation and his future.
Bowling spent 15 days in the Payne County Jail. He completed 30 hours of community service and six weeks of substance abuse counseling and is continuing to pay monetary restitution.
On top of that, Cowboys coach Mike Gundy suspended him from the team, seemingly for good.
Except Bowling preferred to rewrite the ending.
â€œThere were people I shouldn't have been around, things I shouldn't have been doin',â€ he said. â€œI learned from those mistakes.â€
Bowling stayed in school, made his grades and cleaned up his act, watching the Cowboys 2009 season from afar.
â€œThat was the hardest thing, not knowing if I'd ever get to play,â€ Bowling said. â€œHaving to watch these games, watching the football season and not knowing if I'd get to play again, it hurt.
â€œBut I kept believing, kept fighting and got through it.â€
Then, with his life in order, he went to Gundy last May, seeking an unlikely second chance.
â€œWhen he showed up last spring, I didn't know what he wanted,â€ Gundy said. â€œLike a letter of reference or something, to stay out of jailâ€¦ I didn't know what he wanted.
â€œHe said, â€˜I want to play football again.' I, in my mind, was kind of giggling.â€
But Gundy soon discovered Bowling was serious, with a commitment to school and a trouble-free rebound to prove it.
â€œWhat he did was pretty difficult,â€ Gundy said. â€œHe had all his legal issues going on and that cost him a lot of money. He still got enrolled in school and found a way to pay for it, went to class and made his grades, while still satisfying all these deals he had to take care of over here with the county.
â€œHe took care of everything. And that says a lot about him.â€
Gundy considered Bowling's appeal, and satisfied, took it to his coaching staff and ultimately the team's 10-man advisory committee to gauge the interest in bringing him back.
â€œI was a guy who was really pulling for Bo,â€ said Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden. â€œI went and talked to coach Gundy and I thought it was a good idea to give him a second chance. I think everybody deserves a second chance.
â€œHe's a great guy. He just made a bad decision. We all make bad decisions.â€
Gundy had his own decision to make. A risky decision.
Once made, he took it to athletic director Mike Holder, received his blessing and allowed Bowling back on the team, this time as a walk-on, paying his own way without the perks of the training table and all the other extras scholarship players enjoy.
â€œI'll do it,â€ said Bowling, who follows strict rules that include weekly drug testing and mandatory class attendance. â€œI ain't even worried about that. I let a lot of people down here. I let my family down. Let my coaches down. Let the university down.
â€œCoach Gundy gave me a second chance. That's all I could ask for. Even if I didn't come out and play good, just to be on this team is something.â€
The story continues.
Bowling missed spring drills, when new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen installed his scheme, and found himself playing catch-up during the preseason and the early portion of the schedule, a task made more difficult by his call to learn multiple receiver positions.
But with star wideout Justin Blackmon suspended for the Kansas State game, Bowling helped fill the void, producing career highs in receptions (8) and yards (92) in the 24-14 road win.
Then, with Blackmon back against Baylor, Bowling remained a go-to guy, setting new career bests with nine receptions and 101 yards.
Holgorsen likes Bowling's toughness and his willingness to tread through the dangerous middle of enemy defenses. Bowling is a willing and capable blocker, too. Against Texas' press coverage schemes, his ability to get off the line and make plays could be key to OSU's success.
â€œI feel like I'm really getting in a groove and getting back to where I was,â€ Bowling said. â€œAnd it's getting better and better. It's fun.â€
Some around Bowling have noticed a difference. They say he seems much happier than when he was on the 2008 squad, smiling and laughing more.
â€œHe probably loves to play football more than anybody else,â€ Weeden said. â€œAnd he is a competitive sucker. He's a guy you want in your foxhole.â€
And he's a guy Gundy again wants in his program.
â€œI'm happy for him, big time,â€ Gundy said. â€œI could care less about me taking a chance on him, I'm just happy for him, because he really loves to play football. He's a guy who got caught up for whatever reasons and made a bad mistake because things came easy.
â€œHe had to really work to come back here. He's a real success story.â€
A story of recovery.
â€œIt's crazy where I'm at right now,â€ Bowling said. â€œIt's unbelievable. And I'm real happy.â€
After missing all of spring under suspension, OSU wide receiver Bo Bowling has been playing catch-up in the new offense of Dana Holgorsen.
Complicating matters, Bowling opened the season learning all four wideout positions.
Now settling in, the senior from Tonkawa is making a major impact.
Bowling has posted career highs for receptions and yards each of the past two weeks. And of his 17 catches in wins over Kansas State and Baylor, 11 produced first downs.
â€œBo's made a lot of key catches, third down catches on balls that were thrown good, but not great,â€ said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. â€œHe's been really good for us.â€
Bowling's season so far:
Opponent: Rec, Yds
First 7 games: 12 catches , 98 yards
Kansas State: 8 catches, 92 yards
Baylor: 9 catches, 101 yards
Total: 29 catches, 291 yards