Freakish Fowler uses strong study habits to enhance athleticism
By MATT BARBATO
College Contributor Network
Florida edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. is one of the most enticing prospects in this year's draft. His physical traits partnered with his excellent production at Florida makes him a prospect scouts salivate over.
Another allure to Fowler is the coaches he played under as a Gator. Fowler played for defensive gurus in Will Muschamp, who is now the defensive coordinator at Auburn, and Dan Quinn, who went from Florida to Seattle in 2013 where he coordinated the vaunted Seahawks defense for two seasons before ascending into a head coaching position with Atlanta.
Fowler said playing under such great defensive minds gives him a great advantage when preparing to play in a pro scheme.
"It gets no better than that," Fowler said at the Gatorade Evolution of Football event Wednesday night at the Art Institute of Chicago. 'That was a big reason why I went to UF. I could have turned that opportunity down. Muschamp coached Sergio Kindle and Brian Orakpo and those are guys I looked up to at Texas when I was watching in middle school."
"I knew what type of player I wanted to be and I knew he could turn me into that type of player. I couldn't turn down the opportunity."
Fowler not only played for excellent defensive coaches, he also played almost everywhere in the front seven at Florida. He said this versatility makes him a greater utility in the NFL.
"It gives me a bigger advantage just because I can do more," Fowler said. "I can serve you in more ways and I can cause more headaches. I can make a play from anywhere. I won't just have to have my hand in the ground, I can stand up, or move out of space and cover the receivers, or I can blitz from the A-gap or B-gap."
Fowler has undergone a physical transformation since arriving at Florida. He lost 25 pounds since enrolling in 2012, one of the reasons being giving up his old nemesis, McDonald's. He has an athletic frame and arms that are almost 34 inches long.
Despite having great athletic ability, Fowler acknowledges that going to the pros and playing against bigger and faster players will be similar to starting all over again.
"It's basically getting your feet wet again going against a lot of vets," Fowler said. "At the end of the day, they brought me here for a reason and I'm on this level because I can play with them too."
"I feel very confident in myself and I know I can play with them. I'm just going to keep getting bigger in the weight room and learning from those vets."
Fowler said he believes passionate film study is another way to overcome rookie inexperience.
"I feel like film is the biggest thing going against players now in this league because everybody's good," Fowler said. "Who's going to critique the player? Who's going to study the most? Who's going to dissect the opponent the most during that week? Then, Sunday we'll see who did the homework on each other."
Fowler also ingests plenty of film of guys who he hopes to become as an edge rusher.
"I always looked up to DeMarcus Ware," Fowler said. "I modeled my game after him just because of how dynamic he was as a 3-4 outside linebacker and a 4-3 end. I like Von Miller, Aldon Smith.
Fowler added that he's also studying one of the game's greatest linebackers.
"I'm literally studying LT (Lawrence Taylor) right now," Fowler said.
Fowler has the physical prowess, the mental aptitude and the coaching history to make it in the NFL. He also has an appreciation for those who played the game before him, especially the ones who did it well. The team that takes Fowler will get an athletically versatile edge rusher plus a true scholar in the game of football.
Matt Barbato is a senior at Marquette University. His favorite sport is football and is an avid New York Jets fan, for better or worse. You can follow him on Twitter @RealMattBarbato