Joy & Pain

final-CMYK

by Joash Brunet // photo by Agnes Lopez

This was not how Dante Fowler, Jr., the former Florida Gator and third overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, was supposed to start his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars. A little over an hour into his first practice with the team, the Jags 20-year-old would-be pass rusher fell to the ground in obvious pain after getting his foot caught in the dirt and buckling his knee at a horrific angle. Hours later came the devastating diagnosis: a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee that ended Fowler’s season before he ever had a chance to put on NFL pads.

While the injury was a serious blow to the morale of many already weathered Jags fans, Fowler and the team still see a bright future on the horizon. Despite his injury, the Jags signed Fowler to a four-year contract worth nearly $23.5 million, the maximum amount of money allotted to the third-overall pick. Fowler’s unwavering attitude and excitement despite his setback impressed Jags brass. We spoke with the St. Petersburg, Florida native to get his thoughts on his new team’s response to his injury, how he deals with adversity and his plans on becoming a Jaguar.

Q: In the wake of your injury and signing your contract, what have you learned about the Jags as an organization?
“They have a family-oriented culture and genuinely care about the progression of everyone, not just as players, but as men. Coach Bradley visited me in the hospital shortly after the injury and was so honest and compassionate, and I’m glad that he was there. I look forward to working my tail off to get back on the field and to fight for these people who believe in me.”

Q: You have Jaguars teammates, including Roy Miller and Sen’Derrick Marks, who have been through this same (ACL) injury. Will you be leaning on them for support during this tough time?
“Sen’Derrick and Roy have already been very supportive of what I’m going through. They have encouraged me and told me that they are going to push me through this process to rehab and be a part of the defense, even if I’m not playing on the field. Sen’Derrick told me that there will be ups and downs in the recovery, but being around my teammates will make that more enjoyable.”

Q: You have a 3-year-old son, Dante III. How has becoming a father at a relatively young age changed your approach towards adversity?
“Football has provided me with so many great opportunities in life and I know there will be many more. However, my son Dante means more to me than football or almost anything else in this world. God has blessed me with the chance to be a father and I take that very seriously. I am now living to make sure that he can have a blessed life. Being a father forces you to look at everything through a different lens and I am grateful for that.”

Q: Have you had a chance to explore Jacksonville yet?
“Everywhere I have been, from the beach to Southside to Downtown, has all been enjoyable. Everyone has been very friendly and I love the city of Jacksonville.”

Q: You once mentioned in an interview that you wanted to be the "Shaq" of football. What did you mean?
“Shaq was such a physically imposing player. I like to take that mindset with me onto the field. Whether it’s a speed rush and I’m trying to use my quickness or a bull rush where I get to explode with power; I like to impose my will on the offensive player.”