Windy City Gridiron had the privilege of meeting some Bears legends and soon-to-be NFL stars last night at Gatorade's forum on the evolution of football, a wide-ranging event that covered everything from sports science to the draft. We'll be rolling out full coverage of the event over the weekend, but one of the biggest highlights of the evening was a chance to chat with first-round locks Dante Fowler and Kevin White.
Dante Fowler and Da Coach. Courtesy of Gatorade.
Fowler is every bit the future face of an NFL franchise, and appropriately enough, his NFL idol growing up was Ray Lewis. I started by asking him about how his own versatility matches that of the future Hall of Fame linebacker, and as Fowler said, "That's one of the biggest advantages I have, and that's what I'm going to have to carry with me if I'm going to play a lot of years and be really good in the NFL: that I'm not in one place. If you're in one place, they're able to scheme against you. When they don't know where you are, you're able to make plays."
The pre-draft process is a long and very public one, but in regards to things the cameras didn't see, Fowler's biggest surprise so far was "meeting these legends." As he elaborated, "I've met so many NFL greats - Michael Irvin, Cris Carter, Coach Ditka. To be able to pick their brains, to listen to the advice they have for us, I'm going to be able to take that and run with it."
The other part that the cameras never see are the team interviews. As Fowler said about that closed-door process, it was "constrictive. You meet with NFL teams. You go in there, meet with them for 15 minutes, they blow the horn, and you have to go to the next room. It's really business." As far as the strangest interview he sat through, as he put it, "One interview I basically took an ACT test. Instead of talking about who I am, about my family, about football, I went in there and they asked me what 1 + 1 + 5 x 9 was."
Fowler credited his success so far to "striving to be the greatest. Everything I do, I'm really competitive at it. If I'm doing something, I want to be number one at it. That true competitiveness... helps me out a lot." As far how things will go down today, Fowler said that "Whoever gets drafted first on the defensive side of the ball, they're going to be good because of how good this defensive class is. Whoever they get, they're going to be special."
You see the pride Fowler takes in his skills from the smile he flashed when I mentioned the strong possibility that he would be taken with the number three pick, and while he gave an even bigger smile and a "Yep" when I told him that I would love to see him at seven for the Bears, he said of being that number three pick that "It would be a dream come true. I've always dreamed about being the first defensive player taken off the board, and now that I'm here, whether it happens or not, just to be mentioned in that type of category in the NFL... it's great."
Left to right: Fowler, Kevin White, and Leonard Williams. Courtesy of Gatorade.
Kevin White has taken a long road to the NFL, and as far as what has motivated him through junior college and into West Virginia, White said that "My family is counting on me big time. I've been through a lot - going to junior college, even in high school. In high school, it was a big change - I wasn't the star freshman through senior year. Senior year, I came on, but I wasn't the star. Through junior college, missing a season, [it's been] my family. They're the ones I lean on, the ones I think of all the time - definitely an advantage there."
After White posted phenomenal numbers at the combine, it was easy to see that motivation play out, and as White put it, "[there's] not a science to it like people think - it's hard work. I think if you dedicate yourself, put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything. A lot of people didn't think I would run a 4.5, so for me to run a 4.35, that's dedication, hard work, and a blessing from the man upstairs."
Kevin White has been to Chicago before, but as far as seeing the city, he said, "Every time I come here, I'm too busy, and I never get a chance to explore Chicago." He went on to say, "Hopefully, if they draft me..." Knowing that many sources have White as the Bears pick, I asked him what his message is for Bears fans if he were to be the #7 pick. White confidently said, "If I were to come here, I would say to the fans to get ready for some excitement on offense. A lot of high scoring games. Jay Cutler, Forte, Alshon Jeffery: it would be a lot of talent and a lot of mismatches on the field. But I have a lot of work to do. I'm going to prove myself all over again, like I was back at high school senior year, back in junior college, back at West Virginia. I'm going to learn from the vets, take it all in, and I'm going to work hard and do what I have to do, whether that means being a star on offense or being a star on special teams."
White, who is in town with both his family and his receiver coach from West Virginia, is clearly driven to be a star in this league, and he has the drive and willingness to be coached that are necessary to grow into the role of #1 receiver. The player he compares himself to most in today's NFL is Larry Fitzgerald, and that comes across in his demeanor - he wouldn't be an outspoken, Brandon Marshall-type WR. As someone who fought every step of the way into the NFL, however, he would fit perfectly in a Bears receiver room filled with other players who faced adversity on their way to Sunday.
Stay locked in to Windy City Gridiron for all of Draft Weekend for continued coverage of this event, including an amazing interview with Rusty Jones about the work that goes in both before and after a draft to make sure teams make the right pick and make that pick into a star afterwards. A big thanks for Gatorade for hosting the event, and here's to hoping that the Bears can hand in a card with Fowler or White's name on it later tonight.