BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Dante Fowler probably committed to Florida expecting that his career would end in a January bowl game, some three years after he signed on the dotted line of a national letter of intent that would tie him to the University of Florida. He was a longtime Florida State commit and his flip on national signing day 2012 would shock the Seminole nation.
Fowler had just committed to Will Muschamp and a team that was coming off of a big bowl win over Ohio State. The Gators would win 11 games in Fowler’s freshman season before a bad loss in the Sugar Bowl, finishing the season 11-2. The future was bright. The team and head coach were brimming with confidence.
However, that Sugar Bowl began a long, dark spiral that neither Fowler nor any other Gator could have foreseen. Florida went 10-13 the following two seasons — including just a 6-6 record at home. Will Muschamp was fired after the Gators crumbled against South Carolina and Fowler would declare for the NFL just days later.
Meanwhile, the school that Fowler almost went to was in the middle of an unprecedented winning streak — one that now stands at 29 games.
“Oh, not at all,” Fowler responded when asked if he had any regrets about coming to Florida rather than Florida State. “It’s the best decision I’ve made. I don’t look at it just because of who they are. I came in for certain reasons, for the staff, the faculty, my players. You know, hat’s off to them. I know some of the guys. I hope they do good, but no regrets at all.”
Fowler’s career hasn’t gone the way he would have expected it to. His freshman season did. Florida is supposed to compete for SEC Championships and National Championships — the Gators were a Notre Dame loss away from playing Alabama in the National Championship — but his sophomore season was the worst of any team at Florida in more than 30 years. This season the Gators will play in a January Bowl, the second of Fowler’s career, but flashback three years and Fowler would have never guessed his last snap would be in Birmingham, Alabama.
With the NFL waiting for him, and just one game in the way, you couldn’t blame him for looking past this game. There’s a lot on the young man’s mind. He needs an agent, he has to find a place to workout and prepare for the NFL Combine, interviews with NFL teams and, of course, the draft. Two fellow seniors — Darious Cummings and Andre Debose — won’t play in the game. Cummings for a violation of team rules and Debose for what interim head coach D.J. Durkin called a “mutual decision.”
There was speculation that Fowler wouldn’t play in this game. The risk/reward is stacked against him. He’s already given NFL scouts and teams plenty of film to evaluate him on. There’s little that playing on Saturday would do to help his draft stock (many project him to be selected in the first round) but a injury on Saturday could derail all of that. Fowler admits that not playing crossed his mind, but quitting on his team, his friends and coaches isn’t in his DNA.
“Yeah. But at the end of the day, like I said, it’s just my competitiveness because that doesn’t feel right to not play and just sit out,” he said. “I can’t do that. Who does that?”
Fowler will be a millionaire in a few short months. Every kid that straps on a helmet dreams of playing in the NFL and Fowler is on the precipice of realizing his own dreams. For now, that’s on the backburner. Fowler is relishing his week in Birmingham, his last go around with the Gators and the last opportunity to strap on a helmet with the script “Gators” on either side and play for the Orange and Blue.
“I’m going out with a bang, with my teammates. It’s my last game,” he said. “My class that I came in with, all my players, we built a brotherhood. Those are my boys. I couldn’t just ice it down like that. I’m really competitive. I just want to be right. We’re playing. It’s my last game as a Gator. Just being able to come out with the win and make them extra happy, that’s all I care about.”