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For Some Ravens, College Basketball Experience Is Beneficial To NFL Career

September 19, 2017
To quote internet darling @PFTCommenter: "People forget that" some NFL players used to play college basketball. 

It's widely known Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham, Los Angeles Chargers tight end Antonio Gates and former Kansas City Chiefs/Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez are among the players who came to football after a background in basketball.

But Ravens fans might be surprised to know that some of their favorite players also come from backgrounds on a college hardcourt. In fact, three Ravens -- linebacker Tyus Bowser, offensive tackle Austin Howard and defensive lineman Bronson Kaufusi -- all played college basketball. 

Having three former college basketball players on one NFL roster might be unprecedented. While some former basketball players in the NFL are well known, others are not. In fact, even the three Ravens who played college basketball admitted they didn't really know the others had.

Boswer played in four games during two seasons at the University of Houston, and basketball was always a part of his life. 

"My mom, she played basketball in college [at Texas College, a historically black college in his hometown of Tyler, Texas]," Bowser said. "My dad, he also played basketball, too. Growing up, that's pretty much what I've always been around. With my mom, I pretty much started playing basketball and baseball. My stepdad came in and he introduced me to football because I played pitcher as a baseball player, so I kind of started getting in there and playing quarterback. That's how I got into playing football. Just being around mom, that's what I've always done."

The rookie pass rusher played basketball throughout high school and had a goal to receive a scholarship to play both sports in college. Oklahoma State was an option for him to play both, and Oral Roberts offered him a basketball scholarship before he ultimately accepted Houston's offer to play shooting guard in addition to football. However, when a new football coach came in, Bowser's basketball dream came to an end. 

"I worked hard as far as trying to get [basketball] to work out," Bowser said. "But it was my sophomore year when [former Houston] coach [Tom Herman] came in. He kind of just talked to me about going all football. I agreed with it. I knew that football was that way to go.

"It was a little tough because I've always been around it. I've always grown up around it. It was a little tough, but changes come and you've got to figure out what's best for you and where you can reach your goals at, and I knew that was football. It's so hard to make it to the big leagues in basketball. So I was given an opportunity, and I took advantage of it."

Bowser believes his time playing basketball helped him improve as a football player. 

"It helps as far as with me playing shooting guard, I got to go out there and defend quick players on the wing," Bowser said. "Just being able to move your feet and flip your hips and stop on a dime and contest a shot -- all of that comes into dropping into coverage and playing man to man on tight ends and running backs whenever they try to make a move at the point. All of that can be used as far as my coverage skills. It's been a real help." 

Howard also spent his entire life around basketball. 

"I've been playing since my dad used to take me to AAU practices in the summer and the summer leagues," Howard said. "I didn't play football until the eighth grade, so it was all basketball. But I think things kind of worked out in terms of making the transition to football."

Before making the permanent switch, Howard scored eight points while playing five games as a forward with the Northern Iowa basketball team during the 2005-2006 season. The lack of playing time made it easier for him to choose to commit to being a full-time football player. 

"I knew that I was going to be sticking with football," Howard said. 

The veteran right tackle also says his basketball experience has helped him on the football field. 

"Basketball definitely helps keep you in shape," Howard said. "Still, playing a pickup game of basketball -- it's great conditioning. Now it's just a matter of being careful and making sure you don't get hurt. You work on agility, you work on being athletic. A lot of what we do from the offensive line correlates a lot to basketball playing defense. Our [offensive line] coach Joe [D'Alessandris] and also everyone knows Howard Mudd [Howard's offensive line coach with the Philadelphia Eagles] -- he used to coach 'block them on the O-line as you do playing defense in basketball,' so it's kind of the same thought process, I guess." 

Kaufusi managed to score 21 points while getting time in 20 games during the 2012-2013 season at Brigham Young. 

"Basketball was the first sport I started playing," Kaufusi said. 

But after friends talked him into playing football as well in high school, it was mere happenstance that brought him back to basketball in college. 

"And then college, I went on a mission and then came home and played on the football team," Kaufusi said. "The basketball team's players all got hurt; three big guys got hurt. So they were like, 'Who do we need?' I played with all of those guys, so they came knocking and I said, 'Yeah, sure, I'll do it.' So then I ended up joining the team after football season. I loved it; it was fun."

He intended to come back for another season, but a move to outside linebacker made playing spring football a necessity. 

Because their basketball backgrounds aren't well known, the trio has been able to catch teammates and other NFL players off guard when they play basketball with or against each other. 

"When we actually play I can be a little deceptive and do things they don't expect," Howard said.  "Occasionally, you do a little something -- dunk a ball or whatever they didn't think you could do."

And are there any other Ravens whose game is good enough that they could have played college basketball?

"[Safety] Eric Weddle, for sure; he's a really good basketball player," Kaufusi said. "He's like a point guard/shooter/slasher. He for sure could have played. Sizzle's [linebacker Terrell Suggs] got some good game to him. He plays a lot. He's a really good player; he can shoot, he can drive and dish the ball out well."

Years ago, many NFL teams would actually field basketball teams made up of active players to participate in charity events during the offseason. In fact, in 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers basketball team played a game at North Harford High School (Harford County). And while it's unlikely the Ravens would start a basketball team considering the significant injury risk, they'd seem to have a major leg up on their competition if they did. 

"Oh yeah," Kaufusi said. "We'd take on anyone. We'd have some fun." 

Photo Credit: Sabina Moran/PressBox