UF's Fowler growing up fast
Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 1:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 1:51 p.m.
Even though mature enough to play in America's toughest football conference last season, Dante Fowler Jr. remained silent because Florida coach Will Muschamp does not allow true freshmen to talk to the media.
Now that he's a sophomore, Fowler is free to talk.
“I'm not a kid anymore,” Fowler said with a smile earlier this week.
No, he's not.
This is what can happen to a hard-working five-star recruit who is thrown into the SEC fire as a true freshman and not only survives, but thrives.
You grow up fast.
“That's a grown man's game (in the SEC),” Fowler said.
Fowler was only a kid, just a few months removed from high school, at the start of last season. But he played early and often at the Buck position, seeing action in all 13 games (including one start) and making the SEC coaches' All-Freshman Team after recording 30 tackles (eight for losses) and 2.5 sacks.
“It was fun, and a big experience going out there and playing with Jelani (Jenkins) and (Dominique) Easley and Sharrif (Floyd),” Fowler said. “I was sitting at home watching those guys. So, it was a lot of fun being out there and being at the college level, because I know a lot of kids aren't able to play at a big D-I level like that."
He said he grew up over the course of the season.
"There was a point when I first started playing where I was a little slow, because I didn't know all the plays,” he said. “I was scared for coach Muschamp to get on me and things like that.
“I really wasn't able to play fast. Then towards the South Carolina game, I started to go in and watch a lot of film trying to get better. Studying more and that's when I was able to play fast, because I knew everything and I had no worries or doubts. So, that's when I really started to play fast and make all of my plays."
Now that he has a year of experience, Fowler is preparing to take his game to another level in 2013. He's shed some of his “baby fat,” has gained strength and is practicing and studying hard, trying to become a more dynamic overall player.
“I feel really good about this year, knowing that I got a year under my belt as a freshman,” he said. “I got a lot of reps, so it's going to be pretty good. I feel like big things are going to be able to come this year.
“First coming in (last season), I was a little bit overweight as a Buck. I was playing around 275. I'm like 265 now. I just want to be able to play fast and shed some of that baby fat that I have.
“I wanted to get stronger in my upper body being able to play the run well. Learn the game more, be a smarter person. Just knowing what to do and what not to do. Not being a little rookie anymore, just being more mature."
Offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, another Gator who grew up as a true freshman in the SEC last season, has been going against Fowler in practice just about every day the two have been here. He said Fowler has improved considerably.
“Oh yeah, definitely. Definitely,” Humphries said. “Dante, he's a freak now. He's getting better every day.”
Fowler said he is hoping to become one of the SEC's best pass rushers this season.
“I think that's my strength, being a pass rusher,” he said. “Learning from DQ (Dan Quinn) and now coach (Brad) Lawing, especially. He coached Jadeveon (Clowney) and Melvin Ingram, two players I look up to a lot. He's helped me with my pass rushing a lot and correcting a lot of things. I'm just learning and trying to get better at it."
Muschamp said Fowler has a great passion for the game, and that no one works harder at it.
“Dante walks up to me every single day and says, ‘What can I do to get better?' " Muschamp said. “It starts, to me, from a maturity standpoint off the field understanding what it takes to be successful.
“A lot of guys, when they were a dominant player in high school, come to college and they've never had to work hard. They've never had to watch extra film. They've never had to put in the extra things to be successful. And that's what (he) does.”
Fowler has been working at two positions this spring — Buck and defensive end. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has said the plan is to have Fowler and Ronald Powell on the field at the same time this season. Powell was expected to be the starting Buck last season before he tore his ACL in the spring game. He reinjured the knee last season and is still recovering.
Powell is expected to return in August.
“Powie, he's like my big brother. I look up to him,” Fowler said. “He talks to me a lot. He just tries to coach me up any time he can. It's nice learning from him. He really had the Buck down pat before he tore his ACL.
“He can't wait to get back out there. It's going to be fun playing with him, too. When both of us are out there, it's going to be a blast going after the quarterback. It's going to be good.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.