ST. PETERSBURG – Lakewood High School played host to a draft night watch party in anticipation of former student Dante Fowler, Jr.’s No. 3 overall pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The former Gator is the highest NFL draft pick of any other student coming from the Tampa Bay area.
As he glided across the stage in Chicago Thursday night to hug NFL Commissioner Roger Goodel while sporting his gold spiky Christian Louboutin shoes, current students and administration at Lakewood were cheering him on at his old alma mater.
“He was an outstanding athlete while he was here. He was a good student and very humble,” said Assistant Principal Harriet Davis.
Davis wanted the community to celebrate Fowler’s accomplishments, so she helped organized the party that included three large screen projections setup in the gym so that everyone had a front row seat.
“He was an amazing student. He was a hardworking kid on and off the field,” said Principal Robert Vicari, who did admit Dante had to be checked sometimes. “Dante would make his own plays every once in a while, so you had to contain him and keep him on course.”
Vicari took some time to calculate, and of course speculate, what Dante’s signing bonus would be. “His signing bonus will probably be close to what two years of salaries are for the entire school, from custodians to administrators to teachers and counselors,” he laughed.
With all that money, Vicari hopes that he will surround himself with good people, hold on to his money and finish his education. “You are a superstar one day and the next day, God forbid, something could happen to change your whole life,” he cautioned.
Basketball Coach Anthony Lawrence taught him in a FCAT language arts class and tried to get him to play basketball, but Dante was strictly a gridiron guy.
“He was a lot of fun and had a lot of character. He did what he needed to do. He always had a smile on his face and I enjoyed having him in class,” said Lawrence.
Dante’s father, Dante Fowler, Sr., is one proud father who believes hard work and tough love is the only way to train up a child.
“We are working people who believe in good morals and doing what is right,” he said. “As a parent, tough love means putting our children in a position for them to achieve and do well.”
Tough love is what has propelled Dante and his siblings to strive and achieve dreams unimaginable, and both of his parents worked hard at it.
“Sometimes it means making our children do work that they don’t want to do, or coming to the school to be an advocate for my child. In our house, Dante’s mom and I tried to have balance for him and our other children,” said Fowler, Sr. “We understood that he enjoyed life and it sometimes became a thin line to a problem. It is our responsibility to help him figure some 7 things out until such time that he has to figure them out for himself.”
That time has swiftly come upon him. Now, as a professional football player, Dante will take all the love, life lessons and fun times and carve out a great life for himself.
“As parents we want to help educate other parents and kids on rules and snags that we learned,” said Fowler, Sr. “If we can catch kids by the eighth grade and help them to understand that it’s education first and football second, then we’ll see a lot of success stories.”
His father said that Dante had challenges, but went on to do well at Florida. He is one class from graduation and had a 3.0 grade point average for the semester.
“I thank God for the struggles that became lessons; however, every lesson learned don’t have to come from a struggle,” he said.
Dante’s new lesson is how to tackle running backs and sack quarterbacks. That road he has traveled well.