By Scott Hansen
Getting to Know: Westmoore Defensive End Joey Fowler
During the 2005 season, Joey Fowler's football future appeared bleak after being hospitalized due to a bowel obstruction, missing an entire semester of school. Fowler lost 35 pounds. Thanks to his uncanny work ethic and dedication, the defensive end returned to the Westmoore football squad in 2006 and led a dominant defensive unit before committing in April to Texas Tech.
In 2006, just one year after being hospitalized, Fowler returned to the Jaguars and registered 104 tackles (24 solo), five quarterback sacks, and five fumble recoveries. He anchored a defensive unit that posted four shutouts in the first six games of the 2006 season. Westmoore won its first 11 games last season before losing a heartbreaker in the Class 6A quarterfinals to Owasso, 31-19. The Jaguars gave up a mere 11.2 points per game.
It appeared Fowler's performances during the 2006 campaign would be his last in a Westmoore uniform under the tutelage of coach Mike Whaley. But the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association ruled that Fowler would be granted an additional semester of eligibility, therefore teams in the Oklahoma City metro area must try to figure out how to stop Fowler next year.
"The process was nerve racking. I had committed to Texas Tech before they even made an official decision about my case. If I didn't get the hardship, I would have tried to play at a private school, but Westmoore is where I wanted to finish and it is where I get to stay. Since they have granted my hardship, I feel a lot less pressure and I have been able to relax and get ready for a great finish to my high school career," the 6-4, 260-pound Fowler said.
To obtain the hardship, Fowler's first step was to enroll for an additional semester of classes and provide documentation of the illness/injury to prove that he was not able to graduate on time. The OSSAA finalized the hardship package after interviews with parents and counselors to ensure legitimacy.
His hospitalization was not the first time Fowler was forced to overcome adversity. Fowler broke bones in his back the summer before his eighth grade year, which needed to be fused before his ninth grade year. After playing eight-man football at a private school in seventh grade, Fowler's first full season of football was in 2006.
According to Fowler, there are some benefits to receiving an extra semester of playing high school football.
"Last year was my first season of playing varsity football. Obviously, I will really benefit from having an extra year of experience and a year of football maturity before going to college," Fowler said. "I'm taking this year to focus on becoming a better, more explosive athlete and improve upon my technique. I am also going to be able to enroll in college in January so I will be able to go through spring workouts and spring football which will give me a huge advantage."
Fowler is the third Division I recruit to come out of the Westmoore program under the direction of Whaley. San Francisco 49ers tight end Billy Bajema went on to Oklahoma State, and Blake Burruss to currently plays defensive end at North Texas. According to Whaley, having Fowler back for another year will help his program carry over their success from last season.
"We are excited about Joey returning for another year. He was a definite force on our defense and his presence again will give us a good foundation to build on for next year," Whaley said. "Joey's strength is the ability of rush the passer from the edge. He has great speed and is very tenacious."
Lawton Eisenhower running back Harrison Jeffers, widely regarded as the top running back prospect in the Sooner State's Class of 2008, will join Fowler in Lubbock after also committing to Texas Tech. According to Fowler, Jeffers is one of the best players he has faced in his career at Westmoore. The 5-9, 210-pound Jeffers rushed for 1,812 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior for the Eagles. This season, Texas Tech signed three Oklahoma standouts including Millwood wide receiver Tramain Swindall.
"Harrison has great vision and he is very fast and patient. He has good hip strength and you have to tackle him hard. He and I really are friends, but sometimes you can hear us talking trash. We still have one more game against each other before we go down to Lubbock," Fowler said of Jeffers.
Westmoore and Eisenhower are scheduled to play Oct. 26 in Lawton.
As for what the 2007 season holds for Westmoore, Whaley said, "Defensively we lose all our starters from the secondary and that is a concern. Offensively our running back depth is good but we will have a starting quarterback (Tracy Norwood) that has not played much on the varsity level."
Fowler took a more confident stance about his final season.
"We want to dominate. Our coaches constantly instill in us that our last rep should be our best rep, so we plan to win the last week of football in early December. There are some holes to fill in the secondary but our whole backfield is returning with the addition of Norwood," Fowler said. "Tracey is a great passer with a good set of wheels. I expect a more highly-powered offense than we have showcased in the past. The one thing I tell you for certain is Westmoore for the third year running will have the one of the best groups of defensive linemen in the state of Oklahoma! No question."
Fowler has been through trying times in recent years, and will continue to get better with more experience at Texas Tech. Fowler runs in the 4.8 range in the 40-yard dash and benched 185 pounds 28 times at a Recruits Unlimited combine in Oklahoma City in May 2006.
"We are proud of all our guys that complete our program. We expect Joey and all of our players to be great representatives of Jaguar Football throughout their life," Whaley said.
If most of his players share Fowler's work ethic, coach Whaley must be doing something right.
The Jaguars will kick off their 2007 campaign with one of the fiercest rivalry games in the entire nation, The Moore War. Westmoore and Moore open the season with their annual battle Aug. 31. 25,000-plus will cram into Moore High School Stadium to witness these two cross-town rivals. Last season, not even a lightning storm before overtime could derail a classic. Westmoore won 28-27 in overtime after Moore failed on a two-point conversion.
Q&A with Joey Fowler
Q: You picked the Red Raiders over.
A: I had offers from Kansas State, Missouri, and Colorado State, and recently Oklahoma State. I am getting a lot of interest from quite a few other schools including Oklahoma and Tulsa.
Q: What attracted you to Texas Tech?
A: I was drawn to Texas Tech by the coaches and facilities. I really feel like a part of the Red Raider family already and they take care of the players. The facilities are really top of the line and they will only get better.
Q: Have you thought about what you are going to major in yet?
A: I'm really interested in business. I might be a finance major with an emphasis in real estate.
Q: What's it like to play in the Moore War?
A: Playing in the Moore War is by far the most intense situation I've experienced up to this point in my life. I got sick two days before Moore War my junior year and I just dreamed of what it would be like. When I was finally there, it was more than I had imagined. You run out of the soundproof blow up tunnel and everything just freezes. To a high school kid, 25,000 fans packed into a small high school stadium screaming their heads off is pretty exhilarating. I was nervous and didn't know if I was ready but I lined up and made the first two plays of the game and the nerves were gone. It's really a war out there.
Q: Last season you shut out four of your first six opponents. How did you guys do it?
A: We have fantastic coaches and players that work hard, focus, learn fast, and attack as hard as they can. We had more goal line stands than I can count. We played hard-nosed; we did our jobs, encouraged each other, and played with a mean swagger. We demanded respect but we earned it. Up front on the defensive line, we really set up the whole defense. Our coaches did an incredible job teaching us and when we were on the field, we didn't have to waste time thinking. Our reads just came second nature. We also eliminated big plays and caused a lot of turnovers.
Q: Who is the best player you have played against?
A: I would say the best players I've played against were John Scheffey from Edmond Santa Fe and my fellow Tech commit Harrison Jeffers from Lawton Ike. John is pretty quick, really strong, and huge. It was a great challenge. I would get him a few times and he would get me. It was just a battle.
Q: You missed an entire semester of school after having a small bowel obstruction and losing 35 pounds. What was it like trying to get back to full speed?
A: It was the most trying and difficult time of my life. I could not have done it with out my family, especially my dad. He was my trainer and did an absolutely amazing job, better than anyone I have ever seen. From November to April, I went from 204 pounds to 255 pounds in weight and regained all of my strength and speed.
Q: How rewarding was last season?
A: I've never worked so hard toward a goal in my life as I did to be able to play football again. It's so rewarding everyday after practice I sit in the weight room and look in the mirror and just remember where I've been and thank God for his healing me.
Q: Was there ever a time where you thought you wouldn't make it?
A: I remember lying in the hospital and saying to my Dad, "I'm done with football." He just told me to wait until I got out of the hospital. When I got home, I remember going outside and trying to walk to the corner from my house. I was too weak to make it and my Dad would have to go get the car and give me a ride home. It was depressing but my Dad pushed me and helped me to remember my dreams of playing Division I and that was enough to motivate me to keep going.
Q: When did you start to feel that you could become a Big XII talent?
A: Before last season I went to a bunch of mini-camps and I dominated the one-on-ones and started to get some interest from coaches from Big XII programs. It took off slow but after the first game of the season, I knew I was legit and I knew that I could hang with the best.
Note: This is the first of what will (hopefully) be a weekly series featuring the best high school student-athletes in Oklahoma.