The new and improved Dante Fowler

If you had to pick the best player on Florida's football team a year ago, you would be hard pressed to pass on Dante Fowler. The junior-to-be always brought everything to the table for the Gators, even in a really bad season. If spring ball and his blossoming attitude on things mean anything, we will see an even much better Fowler in 2014.

Dante Fowler has made his improvement a personal thing. When he arrived on campus as a freshman, he was weighing in at 277 pounds and there were talks that he may actually need to move inside if that was how he was going to grow as a player. That's not a terrible thing mind you, but necessity if his athleticism would slow down because of the weight.

With that in mind, Fowler immediately lost the weight necessary and made some plays as a true freshman in 2012. As a sophomore he played at a high level and was a force the entire year on defense. Now, he says things will be that much better in 2014.

"I just got stronger," he said about the time since the last ball game in November. "I wouldn't say bigger… leaner. Just staying around that 265 range and just losing the fat and putting on more muscle, just eating healthier.

"I'm going to be honest, I think it was the offseason program, just me getting back in the weight room, getting stronger and feeling better, getting my legs right, knowing how to take care of myself, eating right, eating healthier, things like that. I think that kind of translated on the field and my body, you know, me being able to react certain ways and playing stronger and faster due to my new strength that I have. That makes me feel good."


One of the biggest issues for Fowler was cutting back on foods that weren't helping him get to the ideal shape he wanted to be. When asked what he had to cut back on, the answer was simple.

"Eating nasty foods," he said. "Actually my New Year's resolution was not to eat McDonald's and I haven't eaten it ever since my New Year's resolution. So, I mean, just cutting out the bad foods, eating right, eating healthier.

"The Big Macs. They get me every time."

He really had an addiction to the triple breaded monster burger. He could put them away with ease.

"Three, four maybe, and that's why I was so big," he said of a routine Big Mac splurge. "I couldn't do that. I had to stop. Since I stopped, eating right and things like that it really has helped."

"It was very hard (to stop). But now I don't even like it any more. I can't stand it."

His added intensity is showing up in the numbers in the weight room, where it can be documented outside of stats on the football field.

"We actually hold this little combine for the players (not headed out to graduation or the draft)," he said. "I did some of the 5-10-5, and you know the three-cone drill. It shows us like the NFL and where they are and if you're above average or below average, and there were a lot of things I was above average and some things I was below average and needed to work on."

One of the other things that is helping Fowler get better is the return of offensive tackles Chaz Green and D.J. Humphries to the practice field. Green missed the entire season a year ago with a pre-season injury and Humphries missing the last half with his own injury. Not going against those guys didn't let Fowler prepare like he wanted to. Now they are back and making him better.

"Three, four maybe, and that's why I was so big," he said of a routine Big Mac splurge. "I couldn't do that. I had to stop."

"Yeah, especially being those two being two of the best offensive linemen on the team," Fowler said. "Chaz was having a great summer camp. He just had that setback, and it was like a freakish accident, too. That happened, and then we had D.J, He's kind of like the anchorman, He leads everybody, so when he kind of went down things kind down the drain from there.

"(They) just make me better, and I try to make them better. This spring, me, DJ and Chaz, we really got each other better this year. We like went at it… we just competed this whole spring. I feel like I'm a better player, and I can feel it because of them helping me, and I know they can feel it the same way because we're giving each other both work and we're getting each other better.

"The things that they do make me react off of what they do because of them being two of the top offensive linemen in the SEC those two and me I can give them work and they can give me work. So it just makes us better. When we go out and play other teams we'll be prepared and ready."


That preparation is all he knows now. Fowler sat out most of the spring because he was so dominant that the offense couldn't get a lot of things done with him out there during the plays. He used that time to help others, but also to watch and learn… anything to try to be the best he can.

"Everything goes into it, but at the end of the day I feel like it's my job to always have a good game," he said. "It's just consistency, being consistent the whole game, not being hot one game and then cold one game and you don't hear from me. So I just want to be consistent every time, being on my game every time. I don't want to play bad ball. I'm working on my craft."

With a very young and inexperienced secondary, Fowler knows it is important for him and his line mates to get pressure on the quarterback this season. He understands it and believes he is ready for it.

"I'm going to have to provide better pass rush," Fowler said. "It's our job to get to the quarterback, and that's what we're going to do. We're going to do a better job. Coach Lawing is doing a great job with us on the D-line and working with some pass-rush moves. I'm learning a lot of good things and just trying to translate it onto the field and keep working on it."

An added motivation for the 2014 season was the way last season went. The Gators went 4-8 and had their first losing season since 1979. It changed the attitude of the guys that are back for another year.

"You know that 4-8, especially here, that's not a good way to go out, especially at this type of program," he said. So that put a big motivator on us and me stepping up as a leader, just having some things change."

"That was something that I knew I was going to have to do. I knew I was going to have to step up and be one of those players."

And even more motivation came from head coach Will Muschamp and the staff. Constant reminders of a bad season from the staff and in a Meyerian type of move… Muschamp took away ‘the colors'. The team was afforded less gear than usual and a lot of bland plain grey stuff that doesn't represent the school. The thought being they have to earn that right.

"I wouldn't say that 4-8 is everywhere, but it's always in our minds," Fowler said. "The coaches always put it in our minds. Like when we're not doing well, they tell us it's a 4-8 effort. So when we hear that we know it's time to get right.

"They just took things away just to show us not to get too comfortable. So once we know what we have, we're not going to take it for granted. Not having all the fancy stuff that we're used to having. It's humbling. That's basically what it is, humbling yourself just thinking about what you used to have. Once you get it again you don't want to let it go. So basically not taking stuff for granted."

As a junior, Fowler knows it is his time to take command of the younger guys and become the leader the staff needs and he wants to be. Sometimes that leadership comes off the field as well, like when guys aren't doing the things they need to do in the classroom. He has had to lay the law down a few times, but the young guys are appreciating it form him.

"That was something that I knew I was going to have to do," he said of being a leader. "I knew I was going to have to step up and be one of those players. It was something I wasn't really used to doing because it was kind of out of my comfort zone. I'm kind of one of those laidback, everybody's cool, chill guys. So you know being able to tell somebody they had to step up and things like that, I had to do things like that and getting used to it. But with these guys I like how it is with the leadership because they take it when you tell them.

"You know, sometimes getting it from the coaches all the time they hear it every day so sometimes it goes in one ear and out the other. But if you can hear it from one of your teammates you realize it and you sit back and think about it and it makes them do better. Especially with me being one of the upperclassmen now and having to lead on and off the field, I always have to be at a high standard at all times, and that's making me better as a person too."

Before senior Dominique Easley went down to injury last year, the defensive line and the defense were menacing to say the least. They had big time players at three of the four spots along the front. Easley could have red-shirted and opted to stay in school, but made the wise decision to turn pro and became a first rounder.

A year later and Fowler believes this defensive line can be really good if not better.

"Last year we had a great D-line, it was just how the season went," Fowler said. "But I feel like this D-line, you've got a lot of young guys and they want to get better. So with them wanting to do that and they're getting better as we're teaching them, we're learning on top of that and mixing it all together. And we gelled really well. We're a closely bonded D-line. Everybody hangs with each other and we're with each other all of the time. So just that chemistry with each other, working out extra and getting our extra work in I think that's what's going to bring us together."

"I feel like we play together as a whole D-front and when you can do that a lot of good things can happen."

Fowler likes his running mates up front. Sophomore Alex McCalister backs him up at the BUCK position and physically might remind people physically of Gator Great Jarvis Moss during his college years. Johnathan Bullard has size to play inside and outside and will do that this year and is expected to play at a high level. Sophomore Bryan Cox is tenacious and consistent with his play. Defensive tackle Darious Cummings had a terrific spring making it hard on quarterbacks from his interior line spot. There are some weapons and options up front to put some pressure on.

"I like Alex McCalister," Fowler said. "He's a long guy, a long speedster that can get to the quarterback. John-John [Bullard]… you've got Cox. You've got a lot of people. Darious Cummings can get to the quarterback. It's going to be fun this year."

Fowler has a lot on his hands in 2014, but the mindset to make sure the things happen that needs to happen.

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