Da’Quan Bowers has had to bear a lot on his broad shoulders the past two years.

From seeing his stock plummet from the highest reaches of the 2011 NFL draft to a devastating Achilles tear in the summer of 2012 to his February gun-possession arrest in New York, there have been a never-ending string of setbacks for the Bucs defensive end.

But Bowers’ load is lighter these days.

He’s healthy, and his case has been resolved favorably. The only challenge in front of him now is fulfilling the high expectations he set for himself long ago.

“It’s not only injuries, but (my) play. I haven’t been the dominant player that I know I can be,” Bowers said today at Pierce Middle School in Tampa, where he and several teammates participated in a Play 60 physical fitness event.

“I have a lot of potential to be one of the best and the elite at what (I) do, and I haven’t shown that at this level yet. (It was) injuries and not understanding what was going on. It takes time to mature at this level. I think my maturation process is going on now and a lot of it has already passed. So I’m just looking for an opportunity now.”

Bowers reflected on his recent past for the first time this offseason, having not spoken to reporters since his arrest and subsequent plea deal in what was a felony possession case at New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

Bowers says he inadvertently brought a handgun into the city in a checked bag during his inbound flight and attempted to turn it into authorities when arriving for his return flight home. That resulted in his arrest because he lacked a proper New York permit, despite owning the gun legally in Florida.

Bowers, who has no known history of trouble, hated being associated with a crime but takes full responsibility.

“Right decision or not, it was a mistake,” he said. “There is no right way to make a mistake. I just apologize to the fans and the organization that I put in that (position). I apologize to my family. . . That’s not what I’m about. That’s not the type of person that I am. I appreciate Mark (Dominik) and the Glazers and Coach (Greg) Schiano for being with me through this whole situation.”