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Dante Fowler's running back dreams helped him flourish on defense

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Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- New Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. grew up with dreams of spin moves, juking linebackers and sprinting past defensive backs.

From the time he first started playing football, he saw himself as a running back. He grew up a Florida State fan so he loved Greg Jones, who ran for 23 touchdowns in a four-year career with the Seminoles. Then along came Reggie Bush and Fowler saw himself doing the same things the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner did for USC.

For a while, he did. For three seasons at Lakewood High School in St. Petersburg, Florida, Fowler played both ways, even as his body grew into something more suitable for a defensive end. Eventually, though, the dream ended with a shoulder injury during the spring game against Lakeland High School before his senior season.

"I was the starting running back and was like, ‘Let’s do this,’" Fowler remembered on Saturday. "I was watching Reggie Bush and all those guys going into it, LeSean McCoy. I was thinking, ‘I’m not playing defense anymore.’ I’m thinking colleges were going to start offering me.

"We played against these guys and I toted the rock a couple times and then they knocked my shoulder out of place and I was like, ‘I’m not going to play running back anymore. I will do the hitting instead.’"

Fowler never carried the football after that, but the running back training his father, Dante Fowler Sr., put him through helped him on defense. He still uses a spin move as a rusher and his footwork is pretty good for someone of his size (6-foot-3, 264 pounds).

"That’s why I think the way I play and sometimes the way I move is kind of an advantage over the big guys because they’re not used to a guy that can move like that that’s so big," the younger Fowler said. "That work, I felt like it kind of helped me so it [becoming a defensive end] was kind of meant to be, I guess."

Fowler's father said he trained his son to be a running back and a linebacker but knew he'd eventually become too big to play both and would end up at defensive end.

"We did all those drills in my backyard," Fowler Sr. said. "I tore my back yard up. I tore my front yard up, too, working on that. I know he had a thicker body and I knew eventually he was going to go to the defensive side of the ball. He wanted to play running back. He liked Reggie Bush. So you want to be Reggie Bush you’re going to go out there and go all these drills that you need to do."

Though Fowler's days as a running back are long over, he still maintains his offensive roots. He wore No. 6 at Florida in honor of Jones, who wore that number at FSU.

Now he’ll wear 56 for the Jaguars -- a combination of Jones’ former college number and Bush’s No. 5. He had to work a deal with linebacker LaRoy Reynolds, who has worn the number in his first two seasons with the Jaguars. Reynolds will no wear No. 52.

Fowler wouldn’t disclose what it cost him to get the number, but he joked that he gave up the gold spiked shoes he wore on Thursday night.

"I just approached him in respect and told him what it mean to me and we talked something out," Fowler said. "He let me get it, so I appreciate him for that."