"I'm doing pretty good and I'm getting along with the system really well," Rowley said. "I just need to get my conditioning up, but my two-gap is better. Everything in comparison to last year, I'm 100 percent better. I've really come a long way since last year."
While in a simplistic high school system, Rowley simply dominated opponents with his overall abilities and raw talent. Under the tutelage of Coach Kaufusi, Rowley has been able to use his 4.8 forty speed and 1.56 10-yard dash more effectively.
"Coming from high school to college football is a big jump," said Rowley. "I seriously remember only having like three plays when I was at Waialua. Coming here and having a lot more to learn with the plays and how to use technique for those plays is a lot different. It's a lot tougher."
At left defensive tackle in a 3-4 defense, Rowley is responsible for two areas of the offensive line.
"It might sound easy, but covering two gaps instead of one isn't as easy as you might think," Rowley said. "You are responsible for two places on the offensive line and that usually means you go up against two players.
"You have to be stout and be sure to control those areas against two offensive linemen," Rowley said. "It's not a glory position, but if we do things right the defense as a whole wins. We have to control the front to keep the offensive linemen off the linebackers while defending the run or rushing the pass."
So much hinges on the success of the defense, and it all starts up front.
"It's hard, but if we do our jobs right then the linebackers can make plays," Rowley said. "We're pretty much just taking the hit to let the linebackers make the plays. The linebackers have a hard job too, but we're making it a little easier for them to do their job in our defense. If we don't do things right, so many things can go wrong."
To keep the trenches in order, they defensive line must find a balance between controlling a section of the offensive line while being capable of making a play in the backfield. It's not just all about holding the front line down to allow others to succeed.
"Coach Kaufusi does a great job in teaching us how to take care of our responsibilities while being able to rush the quarterback or stop the run," Rowley said. "That's kind of how that works. Our defensive line is huge now compared to last year. I'm 6'4", 280 pounds and I'm the lightest one on our defensive line, so I think that helps.
"Last year we had taller, more skinnier guys, but this year we're bigger and we're stronger than last year. I think it helps us more with what we want to do up front as a defensive line and with how we are coached."
The Cougar defensive line is more experienced and has greater overall depth as it heads into the world of independence.
"We have a lot of guys now that have been here and know what's expected from their positions, and it's not just the starting guys but the second- and third-team guys also," Rowley said. "There's not as many guys learning how to play, but are now comfortable playing their positions. That basically says that we have quality depth now that can make more of an impact on the d-line while playing the two-gap. We've got a lot of guys that can get it done."
If there was one attribute Rowley claims a BYU defensive lineman has to have in order to play in Coach Mendenhall's defense, it's toughness.
"I would say we are tough guys," Rowley said. "That's how I would describe our defensive line. We have a lot of strength up front, and so tough guys are how I would describe our d-line. We do have a lot of athleticism, so there is some finesse there, but tough guys from top to bottom is how I would describe us. If you're not tough on this defense, then you probably won't do well."
The tough guy matchups
Cougar fans will see just how tough the defensive front is when they face the offensive line of Ole Miss on September 3
It starts with 6-foot-7-inch, 315-pound senior left tackle Bradley Sowell, who has three years of experience.
Rowley – who played in eight games last year – will face Sowell, as will Hebron Fangupo as long as his ankle is fine.
Next to Sowell is 6-foot-4-inch, 356-pound senior offensive guard Alex Washington, also with three years of experience. He played in all 12 games last season with eight starts. Not as fast or mobile, Washington is considered a road grader when it comes to the rush.
At the center position is 6-foot-3-inch, 315-pound junior A.J. Hawkins, who started 11 games last year. Hawkins will become very familiar with BYU junior nose guard Romney Fuga. Big 6-foot-2-inch, 320-pound beast of a freshman Travis Tuiloma is currently backing up Fuga in the middle.
At the right guard position will be 6-foot-7-inch, 346-pound sophomore Jared Duke, who has only had five starts. Matching up against Duke will be junior Eathyn Manumaleuna, who played in all 13 games last season.
At right tackle is another NFL-type tackle in 6-foot-6-inch, 325-pound junior Bobby Massie, who has played in every game of his career and started the last 17 games at right tackle. The battle to watch will be Massie against Cougar outside linebacker superstar Kyle Van Noy on the edge.