Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman (ruh-MAUD CHAW-kee-OW BOW-man) had plenty of good options to choose from.
The senior wide receiver finished as the team’s leader in receptions (41), receiving yards (508) and receiving touchdowns (5) for a Northwestern squad that went 7-2 and finished the season ranked No. 10 in the AP Top 25, and now he just had to pick which of his stellar performances was his favorite to watch during this past year. He could have chosen his three-touchdown domination of in a 27-20 road win over Purdue, or maybe the Big Ten Championship game in which he hauled in eight catches vs an Ohio State secondary littered with former blue chip recruits. Both fine games, both fine potential choices.
But no, neither is the favorite of one Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman. He instead picks what was unequivocally the worst game of Northwestern’s 2020 season, a dispiriting 29-20 defeat at the hands of the Michigan State Spartans who finished 2-5 on the year. RCB (as he has affectionately been dubbed by many) racked up decent stats, as he recorded a game high eight receptions for 54 total yards, but that wasn’t enough for him. He likes to go back to that game film because he wants to figure out what he could have done better.
“Even though I had eight catches, I feel like there’s a lot of things that I could have done better to help our team win,” said Chiaokhiao-Bowman. “I like to watch that game over and over again, not blowing on it or sulking because it was a loss, but trying to learn from it.”
In a similar vein, when RCB watches the film from those highly productive games against Purdue and Ohio State, he’s focused on what he could improve rather than lavishing himself with praise.
“I watch to see how I could have turned 100 yards into 250 yards, how I could have turned one touchdown into two touchdowns.”
It’s no surprise then that Chiaokhiao-Bowman is currently hard at work training for the NFL Draft. He works out three times a day, makes sure to get in at least one full game of film watching each day and is practicing with former teammates and NFL Draft entrants Greg Newsome II and Earnest Brown IV. He’s grinding to try and improve everything from his mobility to his post-workout recoveries, determined to prove the doubters wrong. He hasn’t found his way onto any online Big Boards quite yet, but he doesn’t let that distract him.
“You can say [I’m getting] disrespected, you can say I’m an underdog — it is what it is at the end of the day,” said Chiaokhiao-Bowman. “I don’t control those rankings. I don’t control what people are talking about me and what people are saying about me. But I can control who I’m striving to be, who I’m working to be and who I am, so that’s what I’m focused on.”
The saying “Control what you can control” is something Chiaokhiao-Bowman has long championed, as it helped him persevere through nagging injuries and a 2019 season that was disappointing for the entire Northwestern football team. RCB made it clear from the very first drive of the ‘Cats’ season that he was going to be a key to the team’s turnaround, converting a 3rd & 10 on the offense’s first series of the season with a diving catch in traffic.
Third down conversions became Chiaokhiao-Bowman’s calling card throughout the year, as he was on the receiving end of 12 of the 59 total third down success Northwestern had in 2020-21, meaning over 20% of the team’s conversions on the year went through him. On the year, he recorded a third down conversion in all but two games, with the exceptions being the Michigan State contest and a run-heavy drubbing of Illinois.
RCB knows his strengths lie in being a sure-handed, big-bodied receiver — both major reasons as to why Northwestern quarterback Peyton Ramsey often looked his way come third down.
“Whether it be on the offensive side of the ball or even on special teams, you got to produce, and I think I can do that in many different ways,” said Chiaokhiao-Bowman. “It’s not necessarily about running over the top, it’s about creating separation in my routes vs man-to-man coverage, or finding the soft spot in the zone so you’re team can continue the drive, and I excel at that on the field.”
While Chiaokhiao-Bowman obviously was a major contributor on the field for Northwestern, he’s long been a positive force off the field and in the locker room. Teammates and coaches have described him as a high energy guy, always fired up and encouraging those around him.
“That energy, that juice and genuineness of those things, I think it’s one of the most important factors in success,” said the wide receiver. “When a team or certain players might not be having a great day, it’s important to still bring that energy because practice is still going on, real life is still going on and you just got to keep pushing. It keeps the team going, it keeps yourself going individually and it just pushes everybody to get better.”
(Video created and produced by Derek Schmidt and IFA [Institute for Athletes])
The examples of his outgoing leadership are many, whether it be in becoming the team’s unofficial barber to help build an even stronger culture during the pandemic-altered season, or with the sticky notes he plastered inside his locker throughout the year. On each note is a phrase that ranges from more intangible advice, such as, “Who [do] I want to be on the field and in the organization,” to concrete, football-specific lines on things he needed to improve, such as RCB’s one note that reminded him to drive hard out of his breaks on routes.
“You might run a great route early on, but then get lackadaisical and not explode out of your breaks,” said Chiaokhiao-Bowman. “You might watch film and think you have that note down, but you might forget that when you get on the field because it’s a bad habit of yours and you’ve been doing it for so long, so the sticky notes provided me with a constant reminder of what I needed to focus on. It’s conscious work as I continue to get better.”
The five-year product from Minneapolis knows adversity and struggle well, but he never lets that get him down. To him, being self-aware of who you are is key to success, and is why he’s been working hard in Evanston the past few months to improve everything from his straight line speed to becoming more efficient in his flexibility and body movements, hoping to quell the concerns of his doubters.
He’s used to proving people’s assumptions wrong, being half-Laotian and half-Black in a sport where the professional league (the NFL) is currently only 1.9% Asian in terms of population makeup. Adding onto that percentage and increasing it is something that would mean a great deal to Chiakhiao-Bowman.
“I’ve been counted out before due to certain parts of my identity, looked at a certain way due to stereotypes and assumptions, whatever it may be,” said Chiaokhiao-Bowman. “So [making it to the NFL] would mean a lot to myself, but more importantly to my family because they had to sacrifice so much. My mom, my pops and my family — they had to sacrifice to get me to where I’m at today, based off of their identity and based off of my Blasian identity. Adding Asian people to an environment where Asian people are a marginalized group has power, and it’s power to the next generation that aspire to reach the same if not higher goals.”
Through it all, Chiaokhiao-Bowman is a determined individual in every facet of his life, excelling both on the field and off. He knows he’s not at the top of anyone or any team’s draft board, but what he’s even more confident in is that any franchise who is willing to believe in him and give him that opportunity is making an investment in somebody who won’t leave anything on the table.
“If I do something, if I do anything, I always want to do it to the best of my ability,” said Chiaokhiao-Bowman.
And as anyone who watched Northwestern this past season would tell you, the best of Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman is something that every team could use.