Terps' Fowler stays centered

Football: One of the team's "anonymous heroes," the senior's calm presence on the offensive line has been no small factor in the rise to 6-0.

Colleges

October 18, 2001|By Gary Lambrecht | By Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - He has the calm, studious demeanor suited for golf or chess, which happen to be two of his favorite pastimes.

As the senior center and one of the leaders of Maryland's unbeaten football team, Melvin Fowler brings the same blend of intellect and controlled emotion to the field, where he misses few assignments and never misses a game.

When he starts for the 40th consecutive time in Saturday's homecoming game against visiting Duke, Fowler will do what he does best for some 70 or 80 plays.

He will size up the opposing defense coming out of the huddle, make the initial calls to inform his linemen of their tasks, listen for quarterback Shaun Hill's possible signal to change the play, snap the ball on the right count, then block one or more defenders.

It's an inconspicuous job, and Fowler is the man for it.

"You really have to find a nice medium between going out there and being crazy and going out there and knowing your stuff. Melvin is so cool-headed and stable," junior left guard Todd Wike said.

"Melvin means so much to what we do and how we perform. I know he's going to take care of his block. It's something you don't worry about."

Neither does Terps first-year offensive line coach Tom Brattan, who calls Fowler one of Maryland's "anonymous heroes."

Brattan marvels at Fowler's agility, strength and grasp of the team's multi-formation offense. He loves the grinding consistency that marks Fowler's 6-foot-3, 292-pound presence as the lone senior up front. He loves the way he has adapted to playing center as a former defensive tackle."[Fowler] is as strong as he's ever been. He brings great quickness and flexibility. He does splits in warmups," Brattan said. "He's been around and seen a lot of stuff. Playing offense is a different game than defense. You can't be passive, but you can't be out of control. Melvin is a bright guy who learned that quickly."

Fowler, the son of a retired psychotherapist (mother, Lucinda) and a retired newspaper foreman (father, Melvin Sr.), has been through it all at Maryland, which recruited him as a nose guard at Long Island's Half Hollow Hills (N.Y.) High School.

Shortly before the 1998 season opener as a redshirt freshman, Fowler switched to center, where he had not played since junior high school. He has owned the position ever since and rarely has missed a play.

This season - and especially this week - signifies a sweet reversal of fortune for Fowler.

He toiled through three years of losing football before the Terps (6-0) were reborn under coach Ralph Friedgen. For three years, Fowler was an anchor on an offense that often went nowhere.

He now is a force pushing an attack that averages 32.2 points and is second in the Atlantic Coast Conference with 209 rushing yards per game. For the first time, he is playing for a bowl-bound team.

"It means a lot to me and all of the seniors. We've been here for four or five years. It's been heartbreak after heartbreak, year after year," said Fowler, a communications major who measures his words carefully.

"No one expected us to be in this position we're in right now but ourselves. I probably won't realize how much fun this is until the season is over."

Fowler traces this year's achievements to the summer, when he led the offensive line during running and weightlifting workouts, five days a week.

"We did what it took to come together as a unit," he said.

Besides enjoying the sight of Fowler firing off the ball to smack a linebacker on a running play or smoothly protecting Hill in the pocket - the Terps have surrendered just 12 sacks - Friedgen likes Fowler's calming influence on Maryland's youthful line, which features redshirt freshman C.J. Brooks at left tackle and sophomore Lamar Bryant at right guard.

"Melvin is a very intelligent, mature kid. He's very composed. He doesn't get rattled," Friedgen said. "With the young linemen, that's really helped. He's a leader who's having a very good year."

Fowler says he can continue to progress, all the way to the NFL. He cites his experience with blocking the likes of former Florida State tackle Corey Simon and former Maryland tackle Kris Jenkins, who start for Philadelphia and Carolina, respectively, in the NFL.

"I think, wow, if I could block these guys in college, I can block them in the NFL," Fowler said. "I've gotten better and better every year. I play with confidence, and I believe in my ability and my technique."

Brattan, too, envisions Fowler's career continuing at the pro level.

"We do some things similar to what the pros do, so it won't be alien to [Fowler]. He's in the mix, size-wise, weight-wise and strength-wise," Brattan said.

"What really jumps out is his quickness. He's quick off the ball and into you [as a defender] pretty good. The key is how hungry he is. I think he certainly has a chance."

Next for Terps

Opponent: Duke

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

When: Saturday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 9, Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 M)

Line: Maryland by 25

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