The days of freshmen sitting idly by during their first seasons are long gone. Being a rookie isn't a good enough excuse anymore.
Florida hybrid Buck defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. enters his sophomore season with the Gators as a starter after rotating in and out last year and being Florida's third-down pass rushing specialist.
He finished his freshman season with 30 tackles, including eight for loss and 2.5 sacks. Even more is expected from Fowler as he looks to take a major step forward in Year 2.
The young hybrid player took time out of his schedule to talk to ESPN.com about his sophomore campaign:
Talk about coming into this year without the wide eyes that you had as a freshman.
Dante Fowler Jr.: Going into the spring, I was able to play a lot faster. I learned a lot of things -- some good things and some bad things -- as a freshman. That's going to happen when you're a freshman. There are going to be some bumps and some bruises that I was going to have to go through, but I felt playing as a freshman helped me a lot because it helped me mature. Coming into my sophomore year, I'm going to be able to play faster, I know all the plays and this defense that we're running is something like an NFL scheme, so it helps me a lot to understand the game. I'm also going and watching [more] film. I know a lot of people don't watch film, but when you force yourself to do stuff like that, it helps you become a better player.
What's it like watching film at the college level compared to the high school level?
DF: In high school, it was just watching the person we had to stop and that was it. I barely watched film in high school. Every Monday and Thursday we'd watch film before that Friday that we play in the game, and that's all we'd do. But in college I had to look at the small tendencies because the small things are the ones that get you better and being able to play fast. You need to know every little step that the linemen do because you need to know everything about that lineman if you want to defeat him. College is really about technique. You can have all the athleticism, but if you don't have technique, you're not going to be able to do what you want to do in college.
Was it all pretty overwhelming for you when you realized how much extra studying and work you had to put in away from the field?
DF: It was pretty overwhelming. I had to adjust to the speed [of the game]. I came in here at 277 [pounds], not being as fast as I used to be, so I had to adjust and get the mental part of the game and be able to run real fast because we install every day. I had to mature fast, fast. I think it really hit me when we played Texas A&M and that fast-paced offense that they had. It was one play where [former defensive coordinator] coach [Dan] Quinn had to pull me off to the side and was like, "We need to sit you out for a little bit. I know this is a little overwhelming." Yeah, it was. Just learning from things like that, every game I started playing games faster and faster. During the South Carolina game, I felt like I was really ready and that's when I started making all my plays.
You play a position where speed is key. To not be able to do what you were used to doing, how frustrating was it?
DF: It was pretty frustrating because I didn't want to mess up and I didn't want coach [Will] Muschamp to get mad at me. I was just trying to do everything right. They just told me to go full speed even if you mess up and if you mess up, mess up at 100 percent. After that, I was like, "Well, fine." When I started to play faster, I started to make more plays and be around the ball a lot. You know, the trenches, that's a grown man's game, especially playing in the SEC. You're going against big offensive linemen like Tennessee and Texas A&M. You have to play fast, you have to be strong, you have to hold your own, especially as a freshman defensive linemen.
You guys lost some key guys from last year, but it sounds like the defense isn't missing much of a beat. How do you see this defense comparing to last year's?
DF: Last year, we had a good first string and a good second string; there wasn't any drop-off. That's how it's going to be this year. We have a lot of big impact players coming back and some young players have stepped up their roles like [linebacker] Antonio Morrison, [safety] Brian Poole and [defensive end] Jonathan Bullard. Playing as freshman has made us ready and I think there are going to be some incoming freshmen who will come in and make an impact.
How beneficial is it that this staff isn't afraid to play a lot of young players early?
DF: It helps us a lot. Muschamp is going to throw you in that fire if you can handle it. And if you can handle it, he's going to play you. That's the type of coach he is. He wants as many good players that can help make the offense and defense better. If you're one of those good players that can play, he's going to put you out there because he isn't afraid to do it.
For you, it has to be pretty exciting to play with Ronald Powell at the same time this year. What has it been like to work with him?
DF: I can't wait to play with him. I remember when I was in high school watching him and I remember the day he won the MVP of the Army All-American Game. Playing with him is crazy and he's a big brother to me. He taught me a lot of things when he was hurt, like showing me how to play the Buck position. He's showed me how to play the scheme. I'm pretty sure that there are going to be different ways that (the staff) is going to use us on the field at the same time. I tell you, with me and him on the field it's going to be scary. I feel sorry for the quarterback.
So what's next for you? A lot more people are talking about you and a lot more will be put on your plate, so how do you build off of your first year?
DF: I just have to stay humble and stay hungry. A lot of people when they have a good freshman year and they get all the hype, sometimes they start to fall off and they think that they don't have to do this because they think about who they are. It's really not that. You have to stay humble and hungry because you can always get put down. I'm just going to be humble and keep doing what my dad always taught me and what (Quinn) always told me and keep studying film to get better.