Sunday, June 17, 2018
Colleges

'Teddy Bear' Fowler no fun for Gators' opponents

The critiques began early in Dante Fowler Jr.'s football career. They were comprehensive and extremely candid.

Yet, even as a young boy, Fowler didn't mind it at all.

Because he knew when Dante Fowler Sr. was offering advice, and even criticism, it was strictly for his benefit. And if he listened carefully, and corrected the mistakes, it would pay off in the end.

"He was really hard on me," Fowler said of his father. "You could kind of say he yelled at me. I've always been a coachable guy. I just take it and try to get better from it. It's been like that ever since I was a little boy back in the back yard. You know, if I didn't do it right, watching film. Right after my games in high school I'd watch it before I went to sleep. My mom told him to take it easy sometimes, but I'm thankful."

Nine years after he began his Pop Warner playing days somewhere around the fifth grade, the benefits of his dad's tough-love approach have helped make Fowler a rising star at Florida and in the SEC. The defensive lineman has made himself a joy for his coaching staff and teammates.

"Dante has a great personality," coach Will Muschamp said. "He's a lot of fun to be around and coach. He's a joy to coach. He's always got a smile on his face. You can coach Dante hard. Guys of his caliber sometimes are not approachable in that situation. He's a guy that takes coaching. He wants to be coached. He wants to be coached hard. When he makes a mistake he wants to know what he can do to get better. That's what makes him a really good player. God has blessed him with a lot of ability. … He watches the film. He understands that good plays take care of themselves and negative plays are the ones he needs to correct. He'll correct them himself."

Fowler, a sophomore, was a standout at Lakewood High where he was ranked the state's No. 5 overall prospect by rivals.com. Florida coaches knew early on that he had the potential to be a special player, and he did nothing to change that opinion once he arrived in Gainesville.

He played in every game last season, including one start, and was named to the SEC Coaches All-Freshman team. He had 30 tackles, eight for loss.

"Not many guys as true freshman play, especially on the defensive line," defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. "He's that type of player. He's a very talented guy. He picks up football really well, he has good football awareness. … He's turned out to be what we thought he was going to be."

At 19, Fowler is playing at a high level in a crucial role. With the loss of senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley to an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his knee, Fowler's role has increased. Durkin said the Gators continually play him at different spots on the defensive line to provide more one-on-one opportunities because he's so difficult to block. He was named SEC defensive player of the week two weeks ago and has 17 tackles, seven for loss, and three sacks.

"I'm just trying to get better every week, so I just try to go back and look at the film and see where I need to get better and work on it," Fowler said.

To his teammates there are two sides to Fowler. He's the goofy young man who keeps teammates laughing and is extremely loyal. To show his love and respect for Easley, Fowler carries a large "Chucky" doll on road trips and keeps it in the locker room, just as Easley used to do. Yet, he's also the relentless player who lives to sack quarterbacks.

"He's a big kid," senior cornerback Jaylen Watkins said. "He's tough on the field, but he's like a little teddy bear off the field. I've never seen him mad."

Added senior linebacker Ronald Powell: "He's a little different guy. He's a little brother to me. Funny dude. And it's just natural. It's just who he is."

And he has no plans to change.

"Look at me, I'm smiling right now," Fowler said. "I like to play around and stuff. I just turned 19, so I just try to live life. I'm still a kid."

Except where it counts most for the Gators: on the field.

Antonya Englsih can be reached at [email protected]

 
Comments
Florida’s Brady Singer voted top college baseball player of year

Florida’s Brady Singer voted top college baseball player of year

OMAHA, Neb. — Florida pitcher Brady Singer has won the Dick Howser Trophy as college baseball's player of the year.Singer, who received the award Friday, carries a 12-1 record and 2.30 ERA into the College World Series, which begins Saturday. T...
Published: 06/15/18
Former Plant QB Rex Culpepper cancer-free; ready to return to Syracuse lineup

Former Plant QB Rex Culpepper cancer-free; ready to return to Syracuse lineup

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Rex Culpepper is back. The smile on his face said it all. The redshirt sophomore quarterback had his first full workout with Syracuse on Friday after overcoming testicular cancer. He said he broke down and cried when he was told he w...
Published: 06/15/18
Willie Taggart comes clean on the origin of ‘Do Something’

Willie Taggart comes clean on the origin of ‘Do Something’

During his question-and-answer session with more than 500 Manatee-Sarasota boosters Monday evening, FSU's Willie Taggart was peppered with the normal inquiries about recruiting, offensive scheme and the Seminoles' quarterback derby.All well and good....
Published: 06/12/18
When Willie Taggart filled in for Tommie Frazier at Manatee High

When Willie Taggart filled in for Tommie Frazier at Manatee High

It would have been easy — expected, even — for Willie Taggart to be nervous when he started in place of the injured Tommie Frazier as Manatee High's starting quarterback in 1991.Nope. Taggart wasn't, even though he was the first...
Published: 06/12/18
FSU football coach Willie Taggart gets local hero’s welcome

FSU football coach Willie Taggart gets local hero’s welcome

SARASOTA — He slithered and scrambled his way into the local consciousness in the fall of 1991.Manatee High's Willie Taggart, 145 pounds in a sopping jersey, suddenly found himself with the keys to the Hurricanes' ruthlessly efficient opti...
Published: 06/11/18
Updated: 06/12/18
Florida Gators add West Virginia grad transfer Adam Shuler

Florida Gators add West Virginia grad transfer Adam Shuler

Former West Virginia defensive lineman Adam Shuler announced Monday that he plans to join the Gators as a graduate transfer.Shuler, a 6-foot-4, 268-pound Longwood native, started 10 games for the Mountaineers last season. As a redshirt sophomore, he ...
Published: 06/11/18
Florida State’s Jessica Warren lives ‘every senior’s dream’ with Women’s College World Series title

Florida State’s Jessica Warren lives ‘every senior’s dream’ with Women’s College World Series title

OKLAHOMA CITY — Jessie Warren’s career finished just the way she envisioned it. On Monday night, Florida State’s star third baseman made perhaps the play of her career, a diving catch and throw for a double play that helped preserve a 1-0 win over Wa...
Published: 06/06/18
Florida Gators hire former Auburn AD Jay Jacobs

Florida Gators hire former Auburn AD Jay Jacobs

Former Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs is joining Florida as its executive associate athletic director, the Gators announced Tuesday afternoon."Florida Athletics is fortunate to have someone of Jay's caliber joining the (University Athletic Assoc...
Published: 06/05/18
What Mississippi State says about Dan Mullen’s September homecoming

What Mississippi State says about Dan Mullen’s September homecoming

I haven't yet ranked every college football game in the state (as I did last year), but here's a spoiler: Dan Mullen's return to Starkville on Sept. 29 will be very high.The Florida Gators' new coach hasn't shied away from his Mississippi State homec...
Published: 06/05/18
Ray Lewis, Lomas Brown, Simeon Rice among College Football Hall of Fame nominees

Ray Lewis, Lomas Brown, Simeon Rice among College Football Hall of Fame nominees

Eleven former players/coaches with state ties are up for consideration for the College Football Hall of Fame.Notables notables on the ballot, released Monday morning, include:Florida OT Lomas Brown: 1984 All-American and two-time all-SEC talent helpe...
Published: 06/04/18