The foundation for San Francisco 49ers inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman's success was laid in high school — not an uncommon story — but the man who influenced him is anyone but common. Bowman wasn't led through the ups and downs of high school football by an older brother who played the game or a coach who went above and beyond in mentoring him.
Instead, at 18 years old, Bowman was befriended by former NFL linebacker LaVar Arrington; a friendship that helped him on the field and one he carries with him off the field as well.
Bowman met Arrington on a recruiting trip to Penn State and a bond was made. A connection was near instant, contact information exchanged and the two continued to talk well after Bowman left Happy Valley from his college visit to head back to his Maryland home. Eventually, Bowman would commit to the Nittany Lions and Arrington "let me wear his number" — the coveted No. 11 that Arrington wore during his storied Penn State career. Arrington rode his performance in Happy Valley to winning the Chuck Bednarik Award as the nation's top linebacker, becoming the No. 2 selection in the 2000 NFL Draft and going on to have a solid NFL career.
"It was cool just meeting him that way. I just wanted to gain his knowledge and learn from him, whatever I could," Bowman told Yahoo! Sports. "I knew about the game already, I just wanted to go deeper. I just wanted to be better and learn from him and he was only too willing to share with me what he learned. I had to listen given everything he's done in his career."
Once on campus, Arrington and Bowman continued to talk and formed a friendship that is still a part of both their lives today. It is more than just two former linebackers who went to the same school, achieved success and moved on to the NFL — the bond extends beyond the football field.
"We talk about normal friendship things — things that don't even involve football," Bowman said. "But he gave me a lot of advice when I was coming up. He told me to treat your career like it is your business. Take care of it, watch it the same way; maintain it, stay focused."
The level-headed, thoughtful Bowman is not a man of many words but he's making a statement this season.
In his second year with the 49ers, Bowman is having a breakout season with 143 tackles and two sacks, propelling a defense that was tops in the NFC and fourth in the league. His contributions, stacked against his $580,500 base salary is turning heads as he is a finalist for the Vizio Top Value Performer award by playing "above and beyond expectations."
While his friend and mentor was a first round pick and one of the highest linebackers ever selected in the NFL Draft, Bowman wasn't a first day selection like Arrington. Instead, he waited until the third round as the No. 91 selection to hear his name called. The slight of 90 players being taken ahead of him two years ago continues to fuel him to this day.
And on Sunday evening when his 49ers host the New York Giants, Bowman will play inspired football with a point to prove as his team stands just one game away from the Super Bowl.
"I play and work like I've got a chip on my shoulder. I just got to get better every single year and show everyone what I can do, what I'm capable of doing," Bowman said.
"It's really rather simple to me. I just go out there, hit everything that is moving and fly around and make plays. That's it."
Follow Kristian R. Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer