UF’s Fowler ready for challenge


Published: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 12:56 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 12:56 p.m.

The transition that began 16 months ago is now complete, and indisputable. The evidence can be found in Dante Fowler's house back in St. Petersburg, especially in his father's closet, where orange and blue now hangs where all that garnet and gold once did.

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Florida's Dante Fowler walks onto the field during the Gators’ first practice of last season on the University of Florida campus.

BRAD McCLENNY/Special to the Guardian

From Seminole to Gator. It's been a family transformation for the Fowlers, one that is now complete.

"We gave (all the FSU shirts and hats) away," Fowler said. "Everything FSU is gone. Strictly Gator. All Gator stuff now.

"It was a little hard for (my dad) at first, but he started wearing some of the Florida stuff to go to the barber shop and everyone would say, ‘You're wearing orange and blue now.' Everything FSU is gone.

"We turned him around. He's actually glad now that I made the decision to come here. I think in the end, this was the best decision for me. I'm just very happy now."

Anyone who even remotely follows college football recruiting knows the Dante Fowler story. Maybe saga is a better term.

He grew up in a Florida State environment, raised by a father who was a die-hard Seminoles fan.

"The first helmet and jersey I ever put on was Florida State," Fowler said. "I was like four years old.

"I still remember days when (the Seminoles) used to play Florida and my dad would invite all of his friends over to watch the game."

To the surprise of no one, Fowler committed to the Seminoles before his junior year at St. Petersburg Lakewood. He seemed an absolute lock to honor that commitment on National Signing Day 2012.

But that did not deter Will Muschamp from continuing to recruit him. Muschamp and the Gators kept coming on, building a relationship with Fowler, and suddenly late in the recruiting process Fowler found himself with a difficult decision to make.

"I really didn't know (who I was going to sign with)," he said. "I told my parents to go to the mall and get the hats (UF and FSU) because I still didn't know. I couldn't sleep the night before signing day. When I got up in the morning, it really hit me. I knew Florida was the best decision for me.

"Getting to know all the (UF players) and the coaching staff and getting a good bond with coach Muschamp and knowing the recruiting class I would be coming in with, I knew this was the best place for me to be."

It was a stunning signing day surprise, one that wounded his father, he said. But only slightly.

"He took it fine, but you could still tell he had a little bit of sadness in him," Fowler said. "He always dreamed about me going to Florida State. But at the end of the day, he respected my decision. He was 100 percent with it. He said, ‘I'm going to support you wherever you go.'"

Sixteen months and a Gator victory at Doak Campbell Stadium later, Fowler has moved past Florida State. Now, he's ready to move up at Florida, where big things are expected of the defensive end/outside linebacker in 2013 after playing in all 13 games last season and making CBS' Freshman All-American team.

Fowler expects big things from himself, and the former five-star recruit is putting in the work this summer to make it happen.

He's lost weight, gained strength and already has a valuable year of playing experience in the SEC.

"This is the first time I've actually been in the offseason workouts. I was still in high school this time a year ago," he said. "I'm just getting stronger, working on the things I need to work on to get better, losing some of the baby fat I had last season.

"It's paying off. My body has changed. I'm feeling good where I'm at right now. I came in (last summer) around 275-280 pounds. Now I'm like 267. I'd like to stay around 265, being able to play fast and be in shape this season.

"I'm doing what I have to do to take my game to the next level."

That includes spending lots of time in the coaches' offices, studying and breaking down tape.

"Just being a student of the game, studying my coaches and the players, just seeing what I'm supposed to do," Fowler said. "Watching players like (Denver Broncos' outside linebacker) Von Miller and (Dallas Cowboys' outside linebacker/end) DeMarcus Ware, some players that I kind of want my game to be like.

"Studying players like that, working in the weight room, getting faster and stronger. That's where I'm at right now. If I can do that and stay in shape, I think I can be pretty good."

Fowler said he thinks he has a skill set similar to those of Miller and Ware. That's why he's been focusing on those two NFL stars in the film room.

"I think I can see myself being kind of compared to DeMarcus Ware," Fowler said. "He can stand up. He can put his hand in the dirt. I would like to play like him, my technique and stuff.

"I'm also kind of a shifty guy like Von Miller, kind of a quickness and finesse guy. I think those two (Miller and Ware) I would compare myself to."

As a true freshman, Fowler played exclusively at the Buck position, a combination defensive end and outside linebacker. He'll be expanding his role this season, also playing some defensive end, a move that will give the coaches an option to have Fowler and Ronald Powell on the field at the same time.

"I'm playing both positions," Fowler said. "I really don't have a preference. I like both positions. I've been blessed with that kind of athleticism of being able to put my hand down and be able to cover receivers (as a linebacker). It doesn't really matter to me which position I play."

Fowler said he's looking forward to playing with Powell, another five-star recruit, who missed last season after undergoing two ACL surgeries on his knee in less than a year. Powell is expected to be fully recovered for the start of camp in August.

Fowler said Powell took him under his wing last summer and the two have become close friends.

"He took my in like a big brother when I first came in," Fowler said. "He's a great guy. He wants nothing but the best for me. We've built a good bond. He's like my big brother.

"I really admire him a lot. A lot of people when they get those type of injuries just don't care and they kind of go down the drain. But he's always worked hard and pushed himself extra hard, trying to get on the field as soon as possible.

"He's one of those guys who wants to hurry up and get on the field and contribute to his team. I admire him a lot for that."

Like everyone else in the program, Fowler said he's excited about Powell's return to the field this fall.

"He just has that natural athletic ability," Fowler said. "I remember watching him in the Army All-American Game. I was like, ‘Wow, this dude is athletic.'

"He hasn't taken a step back. He looks faster than what he was. When he hurt his knee, all he did was upper-body (work in the weight room). I'm sure he's really stronger up top. I can't wait to watch him play."

Robbie Andreu is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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