Headed for the NFL Draft and a first-round selection, the junior defensive lineman could have gone through the motions and protected himself to make sure he stayed healthy. His name is flying up mock drafts and listed as high as inside the top 10 overall picks. No one would’ve batted an eye if he didn’t play well and made sure he was fully healthy for the NFL Draft.
But that’s not Dante Fowler.
Instead, he had three sacks and two quarterback hurries, making life miserable for East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden. Even when he wasn’t recording a statistic, he was blowing up the offensive line and making life easier for those around him.
“Dante was disruptive in the backfield all day long,” interim coach D.J. Durkin said. “Something needs to be said because he’s a guy that we know his intentions and future (of heading to the NFL). For a guy in this situation to go out and do what he did and play how he played, you can’t say more about a guy’s character. It’s amazing. If you talk about a great teammate, great person and great player -- that’s No. 6.”
Fowler lingered on the playing surface at Legion Field after the game. He shook hands with East Carolina players, smiled while taking pictures and talking to fans, and he spent extra time with his teammates. He didn’t want to leave.
Once he stepped off the field and into the locker room, his time as a Florida football player ended. The All-American and All-SEC accolades won’t be far from anyone’s mind after the leaves, but on Saturday, it was about cherishing those final moments.
“Once I take the jersey off, it’s coming with me. I’ll still wear it sometimes,” Fowler said through his familiar grin.
He sat at the podium in Birmingham recalling his whole career. From his high school days as a Florida State commitment when Marcus Maye, who was sitting next to Fowler, spent time in the defensive end’s hotel room convincing him why Florida is where he needed to be. He talked about Will Muschamp and Durkin, the important relationships that bonded the three throughout their years together.
But on Saturday, it had to come to an end.
Fowler still has a year of eligibility and could return for his senior year if he wanted to do so, but it wouldn’t be smart. Muschamp and the coaching staff have always encouraged players to leave if they’re projected as a first round, and that’s easily the case for Fowler.
He’ll head on to preparing for the NFL combine and what lies ahead, but his time spent in Gainesville will never be far from his mind.
“To see where everything ends, it’s crazy,” Fowler said. “I feel like this is the best decision I ever made (to attend Florida) and it is. I was fortunate to do great things here and that let me be able to go to the next level. Being able to go out with a bang and with my brothers is big. I couldn’t ask for a better feeling.”