April 24, 2013

Faceoff Man Fowler is Duke's Momentum Swinger

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Duke faceoff man Brendan Fowler is also a reserve linebacker on the Blue Devils' football team and is considering joining the Duke wrestling team. His athleticism, coupled a "level-headed" approach, according to coach John Danowski, has suited the Blue Devils well.
© Peyton Williams

Brendan Fowler can't pinpoint the time in his life. He was either a third- or fourth-grader, when his lacrosse coach asked if anyone would like to try facing off. But Fowler clearly remembers the love of competition and sense of adventure that already were percolating within him. The elementary school kid quickly volunteered to give it a try.

Fowler essentially is that same kid, only now he's the much bigger version, a junior bursting with enough talent, energy and enthusiasm to play two varsity sports at Duke University. At 6 feet, 205 pounds, Fowler is also a reserve linebacker on the school's football team. On the lacrosse field, he fills a key role that goes beyond his ability to win two-thirds of his draw attempts as Duke's primary faceoff weapon.

"[Fowler] has got a constant motor. He's a freak," senior midfielder David Lawson said. "He's got the long hair and a couple of tattoos, and he has this mentality. He doesn't ever want to admit he's tired. He never complains. He's just an animal."

"Brendan just loves life and wants to play. He always has a smile on his face," Duke coach John Danowski said. "He's got a 3.4 GPA. He lives in the weight room, takes great care of his body. He understands how important stamina is. When some guys are dragging at a tough practice, he's the one going, 'What's the big deal? This is nothing.'"

There are various reasons why fifth-ranked Duke (11-4) has shaken off another shaky start by winning its last nine games, heading into this weekend's ACC tournament. The Blue Devils, led by junior attackman Jordan Wolf, are balanced and deep on offense. Six players have recorded at least 33 points. Duke has averaged 15 goals during its winning streak.

Defensively, Duke has acquired stability in the cage, where sophomore goalie Kyle Turri ably has taken over for senior Dan Wigrizer, who decided to give up the sport after suffering multiple concussions. Turri has started in eight straight victories, during which Duke has allowed eight or fewer goals on six occasions with a maturing unit.

All along, Fowler has kept doing what Fowler has always done in a Duke uniform — win a decisive majority of faceoff attempts with a consistency that spoils the Blue Devils. After winning 16 of 22 draws in Saturday's 16-7 rout over Rutgers, and getting the best of top-five faceoff man Joseph Nardella in the process, Fowler currently ranks third in Division I, having won 66.1 percent of his 339 draws.

"I like to look at it more as a team thing," said Fowler, who saluted the wing play of teammates Will Haus and Luke Duprey. "But I love the one-on-one aspect of [facing off]. It's me against you, and one of us is going to pick up this ball. Whatever happens, I'm going to pick up the ball."

It sounds so simple. And Fowler, who previously spent two seasons as Duke's effective backup by winning 58 percent of a combined 254 draws playing behind superstar long-stick midfielder C.J. Costabile, often makes it look that way.

"Anyone who plays against me knows that, 90 percent of the time, I'm a pinch-and-pop guy," he said of his preferred technique. "I like to be physical. We work hard on ground balls and scrapping. I love that part of the game. I love making momentum swing."

Lawson pointed to how Fowler, who has won his faceoff matchup in 13 of 15 games in 2013, has consistently worn down opponents and taken control in the second halves with runs that have fueled Duke – such as Fowler's dominant fourth quarter in a recent, 19-16 slugfest with Virginia. The Blue Devils closed with a 7-2 run.

"He always outlasts the other guy," Lawson said.

Danowski likewise pointed to Fowler's strength and superior conditioning, but added he is much more than a football player beating up smaller specialists.

"[Fowler] is bright enough to look at what the other guy is doing and adjust to it, and he can feel the [official's] whistle," Danowski said. "He stays level-headed after he loses three in a row. He figures things out."

Fowler, who grew up in the Long Island town of Wantagh in Nassau County, has figured things out for a long time. After falling in love with football first — his Dad, who played at Villanova, coached Brendan in elementary school — Fowler was a two-time all-NYCHSAA linebacker at Chaminade High School. He took that toughness to the wrestling mat as well, as a two-time state champion.

On the lacrosse field, Fowler made his mark as a two-time letter winner, topping it off with a huge senior year by winning 78 percent of his attempts to become the league's Faceoff Man of the Year in 2010.

At Duke, Fowler said his first two years behind Costabile provided invaluable teaching tools, whether he was playing scout team faceoff guy or just talking shop with one of Duke's more unique weapons in recent years.

Danowski said Fowler, who is considering using his final year of eligibility to wrestle in Duke's non-scholarship program, provides a unique blend of weaponry for the Blue Devils.

"Anybody who brings a unique personality to every practice is extremely helpful. College kids are young and impressionable. They follow that type of leader," Danowski said. "Brendan has been tremendously consistent from day one. He allows us to keep momentum or reverse it. You're always looking for a guy to help your team relax. Brendan is that guy."

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