Highly recruited Barnegat High School rising senior Manny Bowen plans to play football at Penn State University. On Saturday night, while on a weekend trip to the State College, Pa., campus, Bowen announced on Twitter his non-binding commitment to play football.

Bowen tweeted, “I commit,” with a picture of himself and his brother, Josh, in the Penn State locker room wearing football jerseys.

“It’s a big thing for me,” Bowen said by telephone Sunday. “As soon as I committed, it was like a lot of weight came off my shoulders.

“I feel good to just say that I’m a Nittany Lion. I’m committed, and now I can focus on my season and winning a state championship.”

Bowen was recruited as a linebacker by several NCAA Division I schools, most notably Alabama, Miami, Oklahoma, Florida, Oregon, Notre Dame and Michigan State. Bowen said he received as many as 34 offers from schools to play football.

But Barnegat coach Rob Davis said Saturday that Bowen wanted to stay close to his family. Penn State is only about four hours away.

“I want to be able to have a good relationship with my coaches for the next four, five years,” Bowen said. “I feel like I can be successful for a few years in college, and that was where I felt most comfortable.”

Bowen was named a first-team Press All-Star after a junior season in which he was a dynamic player on both sides of the ball. He made 78 tackles, 18 for losses, as a linebacker, and made 25 catches for 479 yards and eight touchdowns as a wide receiver.

His performance was a key ingredient in the best season in the history of Barnegat football. In 2013, the Bengals went 10-2 and reached the South Jersey Group III championship game, which it lost 31-7 to Delsea Regional. Bowen scored the Bengals’ lone touchdown in the game.

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Bowen is the 34th-ranked linebacker in the nation and the 12th-ranked player from New Jersey, according to Rivals.com. He will graduate high school in 2015.

James Franklin, formerly at Vanderbilt, is Penn State’s first-year coach. The Nittany Lion went 7-5 last season, including 4-4 in the Big Ten Conference, under Bill O’Brien, who left the university to become coach the NFL’s Houston Texans.

“He’s very quick, very aggressive,” Davis said of Bowen. “His closing speed is very impressive. He can run down a play from the back side. He’s very instinctive.

“He’s a quick learner, works hard and wants to be the best. He has natural athletic ability that’s starting to get more disciplined. I’m very proud of him to go after it, not only on the field but academically.”

Bowen, 17, grew up in Barnegat and went through the middle school system there. But Bowen attended Southern Regional as a freshman and Central Regional, in Bayville, as a sophomore.

When Bowen returned to Barnegat, Davis said, the player told him,“Coach, I’m back. I’m home.”

Davis said he saw a substantial transformation during Bowen’s junior year at Barnegat. Bowen hit Barnegat’s weight room hard all season, and he hit the books even harder to make himself eligible to go to a high profile university.

“He’s a great kid to be around,” Davis said. “The kids love him, the community loves him, and he’s a positive role model that turned things around. He wants to be successful.”

Bowen is the 17th recruit for Penn State’s class of 2015. He is the third high school player from Cumberland and southern Ocean counties to recently commit to a Big Ten school.

Sam Madden, a Barnegat offensive and defensive lineman, committed to Wisconsin last Monday. Millville running back Rob Ennis committed to Purdue last week.

If Bowen stays committed to the Nittany Lions, he could join at least four other players from Atlantic, Cumberland and southern Ocean counties at Penn State in 2015: Southern Regional tight end Mike Gesicki, Oakcrest linebacker Brandon Bell, St. Augustine Prep defensive tackle Austin Johnson and Millville defensive tackle Antoine White.

Contact John Russo:

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