There were times when NaVorro Bowman questioned whether his surgically-repaired knee would ever recover enough for him to perform as he did pre-injury.
And while the linebacker still insists that he's not yet back to where he once was, the results of his comeback season have been overwhelmingly positive. So much so that players, coaches and fans around the NFL rewarded Bowman by voting him to the 2016 Pro Bowl.
The heart and soul of the San Francisco 49ers defense got the news on Tuesday and immediately thought of his family.
"Just remembering their faces and how they felt when the injury happened," Bowman said. "They've been there since Day 1… it's an exciting time for us."
Bowman suffered a torn ACL and MCL in the 2013 NFC Championship game and has spent the last two years rehabbing the injury. He missed the entire 2014 season before slowly rebuilding strength this offseason in preparation for the 2015 campaign.
"I had to have the correct mindset to keep it going forward and keep progressing," Bowman said. "It wasn't just me going out there and letting the knee work. I really had to push through some times when I felt like the knee needed a break that day.
"I didn't want to get down on myself when I felt some type of pain. I knew it would be uncomfortable at times, but I knew it would get better and it has."
After postseason runs prohibited Bowman from participating in his first two Pro Bowls, the linebacker told reporters on Wednesday that he will play in the game this time around. He'll be joined in Hawaii by teammate Joe Staley for the event that takes place on Jan. 31 at 5 p.m. PT.
"I just want to be looked at as someone who can encourage guys who have an injury," Bowman said. "When they see a dark light, (they know) that it's possible and I'm one example of how to get it done."
Enjoy the best photographs of San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman's return to the field.
While it was initially anticipated that the 49ers would rest Bowman at times this year, only Eric Reid has played more snaps on defense than him. The 27-year-old has started all 14 games and is tied for the league-lead in tackles with 136.
"I'm not at the level of where I want to be at yet, but I'm at a level where I definitely still can make plays," Bowman said. "I've always studied the game the way I should. I always prepared the way I should. … It's not all about the athletic ability. I try to relay that to the guys that are coming up.
"You really need to get the coach's mindset inside of your game, and that's the level that I think I improved on while I was sitting out of the game."