Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
It only seems like Troy Fowler was born to play quarterback.
The reality of his evolution into one of the Southwest Conference's top threats behind center is a lot less storybook and glamorous for the junior at North Medford.
"The kid really has worked hard at it," says North Medford head coach Mike Mitchell. "He's been really committed to being as good as he can be and we hope that continues for the rest of his career."
From weekend trips to wherever the Barton Football Academy was at that time to perfect attendance at the team's early bird workouts, Fowler is a continual work in progress as he strives to become the best quarterback he can be.
He's the kind of teammate who will drive to your house and pick you up for early bird to eliminate any excuses, and the type to call or text over and over again until you finally cave in and join the workouts.
"Everyone knows why I'm calling in the morning and they don't want to pick up," the 16-year-old Fowler says with a laugh. "Finally they do and they're like, 'OK, OK, I'm up, I'm coming,' mostly because they know I won't stop."
It's a leadership trait a long time in the making, but something that definitely comes natural.
"If you're going to tell someone else to do something, you're going to have to be the one doing it already," he adds. "That's what my dad (Scott Fowler) always preaches to me. It doesn't matter how hard it is, you have to show up and just work harder if you want to accomplish anything."
Sage advice from someone who admits to being thrown into football by his mom, Kristie Fowler.
"She made me go to football," recalls the 6-foot, 165-pound junior. "She drug me out like in the middle of the season when I was 6 or 7 and I played on the line. The only thing I remember from my first year of football is a quarterback came and said to do a 25 dive and I had no idea what that was."
Oh my how times have changed.
Fowler made the transition to quarterback that next season and there he's remained. And thrived.
"I've said this from the start, he's a special guy," says Mitchell, in his second year with the Black Tornado (6-1, 5-0 SWC). "He just makes things happen. You don't want to call it magic, but he's a third-down-and-4 kind of player that just comes up with big plays. He's been very instrumental in our success this year."
Playing in the Black Tornado's wide-open scheme, Fowler has completed 111 of 186 passes (60 percent) for 1,759 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions. He's also run for 212 yards and four TDs on 45 carries to show the kind of dynamic threat that perfectly suits Mitchell's offensive scheme.
"It's not one of those deals where he's one-sided, he can do it all," says Mitchell. "At times I wish we had more option offense in so we were capable of taking advantage of all he can do."
But within the context of North Medford's offense, Fowler also provides a bit of a wild-card threat. With so many years at the position — with many of the same talents he's surrounded by today — there's always the chance Fowler will freestyle his way into a big play that wasn't there at the hike of the football.
"He's willing to take chances but he's pretty good at following his progressions and doing things he has to do," says Mitchell. "I think he threw too many picks early and I think he's solved that and doesn't seem to throw it into trouble as much."
When you have that let-it-go mentally, sometimes it's difficult to harness but Fowler says he's trying his best each time out — even if he has his talented receiving corps in his ear begging for him to take a chance.
"I know my plays and when I'm going through my progressions," he says, "but when it's not there sometimes I'll freestyle. Mostly I'm following my progressions until I don't see anyone open."
After that, who knows. He's as likely to tuck the ball and run — something he stayed away from last year — as he is to go deep and give his receivers a chance to make something happen.
"If the play breaks down I'm looking to take off with it now or make a play downfield," says Fowler. "Last year it was get out of bounds and that was it."
That said, there are unwritten rules to Fowler's willingness to freestyle.
"If it's a bad ball I tell them you better knock it down because if I get picked I'm not giving you a chance again," he says with a laugh. "I trust them so I think it's just about cutting it loose and having no regrets. Then if you throw a pick, you just learn from it because you have to go back out on the field again and make up for it."
As with anything, experience in the pocket has led to a definite comfort level for Fowler, along with the work of an offensive line that has grown leaps and bounds under the direction of assistant coach Jim Figoni.
Both those factors, as well as trust on the perimeter, have made this year's run much more successful for Fowler than when he assumed command of the offense one year ago.
"It was hard being a sophomore thrown into everything last year," he says. "It was definitely one of the hardest things I've ever been around. Every time I dropped back I was throwing the ball and getting hit, but this year I feel really comfortable. When you have that trust in your receivers and you can actually stand back in the pocket and not feel like you're going to get blasted every play, it's a lot better."
It was in last year's Black and Blue Game against South Medford that Fowler experienced one of those "blasted" moments, and it cost him the rest of the season due to concussion symptoms. Prior to being knocked out of the game, Fowler had completed 3 of 13 passes for 28 yards and one interception and was sacked for a 2-yard loss.
Needless to say, Friday's 7 p.m. game at Spiegelberg Stadium is big for many reasons.
"When I got knocked out of the South game last year," he says, "from that game on I started working again as hard as I could every single day to be ready. I definitely have a little more edge to just finish this game and prove a point."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry