Fowler center of key switch for Terps Originally a nose tackle, freshman is quick success in move to offensive line

November 07, 1998|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- The Melvin Fowler story could have been a big hit this season if the Maryland football team had played a better supporting role with more wins.

But still Fowler has won the hearts of his coaches and teammates by doing what is supposed to be nearly impossible at the major college level.

In just 10 days, Fowler made a remarkable transformation from a nose tackle to a competent starting center on a patched-up offensive line.

In the second game of the season against 12th-ranked Virginia, the 6-foot-3, 267-pound redshirt freshman stunned the experts by leading the blocking on several big running plays against the vaunted Cavaliers defense.

Fowler and a heavy-underdog Maryland team had a chance to pull off an upset that afternoon in Charlottesville, trailing only 24-19 in the fourth quarter of a 31-19 loss.

Success stories like this don't happen that often when a young player moves from the defensive line to the offensive line. Especially a youngster who had not played center since junior high school.

It was just two games into the season and Fowler was already being touted by coach Ron Vanderlinden and assistant Elliot Uzelac as an All-ACC candidate some day.

No wonder.

The Long Island, N.Y., product had prevented the Maryland offensive line from disintegrating right in front of quarterbacks Randall Jones and Ken Mastrole.

Vanderlinden and Uzelac no longer have to be embarrassed to talk about the offensive line.

"Moving Melvin to center has been a blessing," said Vanderlinden, whose 2-6 Terps will meet 3-4 North Carolina today at 12: 10 in Chapel Hill, N.C. "He would have been a good, better-than-average defensive lineman but he has a chance to be really special at center. That's a good place to build from."

Vanderlinden said it was Uzelac, the team's centers/guards coach who first wanted to give Fowler a try at center.

For Fowler, the surprising events of the past nine weeks have not only changed his college football career, but have left him slightly numb.

"I'm still a little in shock," he said of the move to center. "I don't think it will settle in until after the season is over a couple of weeks. I'll probably sit back then and say 'Wow.' "

Fowler said he is still "coming to grips" with the change because he "loves to play defense" and came to Maryland to be a defensive lineman.

"Part of me still wants to play defense," he said. "But I know the move was the best for the team."

When asked if the move was the best for him, Fowler responded: "To be on the field playing is the best for me."

As a nose tackle, he would have been backing up junior Delbert Cowsette, who has come on strong to have an outstanding season.

Those who know Fowler best, like his high school football coach, Peter Klement of Half Hollow Hills High on Long Island, aren't surprised that he made the move without creating much of a fuss.

Klement said: "Melvin Fowler just goes out and plays the game. That is the one thing I remember most about him. He never has been a flashy guy but I could see he was good enough to play on the varsity as a freshman."

Klement also spotted another important asset for Fowler.

"He always picked up things very quickly," said Klement. "That made it possible for him to do what he did at Maryland. But it was still quite an achievement. I've only seen him play one game on television and that was the Virginia game. He started slowly but was doing an outstanding job in the second half."

Being a natural three-sport athlete (football, basketball and lacrosse) also helped Fowler play the lead role in this unusual story.

He was not only recruited out of high school for football but was good enough to draw interest from Delaware and Bucknell for lacrosse.

Imagine a 6-3, 267-pound defenseman.

Maybe that is what the Maryland lacrosse team needs to take the final step to a national championship.

"I've always wanted to play lacrosse and football," said Fowler as he thought about playing lacrosse for Maryland coach Dick Edell. "But football is a year-round sport now."

Pub Date: 11/07/98

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