TAMPA — Ever since he was 4 years old, Da'Quan Bowers waited for his time to face the music.
He would study VHS tapes and copy every finger placement on the guitar by his father, Dennis, who played for The Legendary Singing Stars, a gospel group with which he toured for more than 30 years.
"My dad wouldn't let me go outside the house and play the guitar until I was 13," said Bowers, the Bucs rookie defensive end from Clemson. "Nobody got to hear me."
He learned to sing by harmonizing with Dennis on all the long rides they took together in his father's semitractor truck, which pulled a 53-foot logging trailer in and out of Bamberg, S.C., a town of 31/2 square miles with a population of 3,733.
At 17, Da'Quan was allowed to tour with the band. And when Tommy Ellison, the group's founding member, was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, Dennis became the lead singer.
He turned to his son to play lead guitar.
And it wasn't just any git-box.
It was a 1964 Fender Stratocaster Dennis affectionately named Denise.
"My dad gave me the opportunity to go on the road professionally, but he set me down and told me football is my career," Bowers said. "Nothing overwhelms football.
"So if it had something to do with football, I couldn't travel."
On his best days, there was a harmonic blend of both. On the afternoon of New Year's Eve in 2010, Da'Quan played for Clemson in the Car Care Bowl (against USF) in Charlotte, N.C. Then he jumped into a car and drove to Asheville, N.C., for a performance that night.
"My father always told me to be patient, be patient in everything you do and you'll get your chance," Bowers said. "I always kept that in mind with everything I did; whether it was sports, the guitar, whatever. I was patient. I worked, I worked and I worked. You see the results."
The Bucs drafted Bowers to be a sack artist after he led the nation with 16½ last season. At one point, he was considered the top talent in the draft by scouts and college football analysts. But a scrutinized right knee injury prompted him to fall into the second round (51st overall).
Even after selecting him, the Bucs were apprehensive about rushing Bowers into the lineup.
"They told me it would be a long, slow process because of my knee," Bowers said. "So they almost told me that it would tick me off how long my process would be. And that's exactly what it did.
"It was a slow process. I wasn't getting very many snaps per game. My snap total would increase every game until it got to the point where I just said, 'I don't think it's a problem with my knee anymore because my knee was fine from the time we started camp.' But for the safety of myself and the future of this organization, they did the right thing, and it worked out. Look where I'm at now."
Last week, in his second start, the 6-foot-4, 277-pounder embraced the bigger stage. He finished with seven tackles (five for a loss), 11/2 sacks, two quarterback hits and a pass defensed.
"His progress was slower, and you could almost see people question if he was the guy we drafted," Bucs defensive line coach Keith Millard said. "But I've always known in the back of my mind this guy was going to be a big-time ballplayer."
If only Dennis were there to see it.
On Aug. 7, 2010, while in Augusta, Ga., for a concert, Dennis was sick with pneumonia and collapsed twice before being taken to a hospital. His son arrived that night. And when Dennis appeared to be getting better, most of the family returned to South Carolina.
Bowers, as always, stayed by his father's side, and the two talked deep into the night about faith, family, football and music. The next morning, Dennis Bowers suffered a seizure and died. He was 51.
More than 3,000 attended the funeral at Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School. The Legendary Singing Stars performed. When it came time for the guitar solo, Bowers took the stage with Denise and poured his heart out through those strings.
"I saw a side of Da'Quan I'd never seen," funeral director Willard Duncan said. "I saw him expressing his innermost feelings through his instrument. It came out through his fingers, into the guitar strings and through the loudspeakers. Everybody could see this. Everybody could feel this.
"You know when a musician is in that zone, as sports folks say? Well, he was in a zone only he and his father could understand."
Rick Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.