Salisbury football star begins career in the ring
Mike Fowler was a key contributor in his time donning the maroon and gold. He tallied over 950 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns in his five seasons.
He also finished third on the team in rushing this season, helping the Sea Gulls reach the Elite Eight for just the fifth time in program history.
After climbing the depth chart for three seasons, Fowler entered the 2018-19 season as a starter on offense. He carried the ball 22 times for 159 yards and a score in the first two games.
In the second game, though, Fowler suffered an injury that would end his season and put his future on the gridiron in doubt.
“I dislocated my clavicle, and it was pushed behind my chest plate,” Fowler said. “It was really dangerous, and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to play again.”
While Fowler had his doubts, his coaching staff did not.
Fowler received a call from his hospital bed the night before the surgery. It was from his coach, asking about his academic standing.
With credits still to finish, Fowler chose to redshirt and return for the 2019-20 season. He began his return to the field around a month after the surgery.
He spent the offseason working and connecting with his teammates as he worked to return to the field. When the first game of the season came around, Fowler said he was just excited to play the game again.
“It was just really refreshing to get back on the field,” Fowler said. “I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t worried, I was just enjoying the moment.”
After several years of watching Salisbury lose tough games against teams like Wesley College and Frostburg State University, Fowler and the other veterans on the team helped bring home the New Jersey Athletic Conference Championship.
Fowler said having veterans with experience from those tough losses helped to push the team further this season.
“I always think the reason this team was so successful was because of our past three years failing,” Fowler said. “This past season, there’s no question about it, we weren’t going to be denied.”
But after spending many years of his life on the football field, Fowler is taking on a new challenge.
Now, Fowler is taking his talents to the ring.
Fowler began training to be a professional wrestler at Maryland Championship Wrestling in Joppa, Maryland during his sophomore year at Salisbury. He has competed in three official pro matches.
His interest in pro wrestling started from a young age, but it was a long time before he decided he wanted to pursue it as a career.
“This is something I had always been interested in since I was, like, five years old,” Fowler said. “When I was in high school … I knew that it’s what I wanted to do. I had made up my mind.”
When he first began this training, he chose not to tell his teammates or coaches at Salisbury. He did not want people to doubt his commitment to the team.
But there was a reason for Fowler beginning the training so early.
“I wanted to get two years of training in so that by the time I graduate, after playing four years of football, I could be ready to hit the road and start doing shows,” Fowler said.
While Fowler is used to performing on the field, the type of performance required in the ring is a different beast entirely. Much of wrestling relies on the showmanship of the wrestlers to engage with the audience and get them involved in the match.
As a theatre minor at Salisbury, Fowler has practice in the art of performing. And while he may be used to long and tiring practices playing football, he said athletes are not the only ones with intense practices.
“The theatre program at Salisbury is incredible,” Fowler said. “With the amount of work those actors and actresses put in … I always respected the grind.”
One of Fowler’s favorite aspects of playing football is having the ball in his hands with the chance to make a play.
In wrestling, he said he feels the same way during a match when the audience is hooked on the action.
“I like the pressure,” Fowler said. “I like when the crowd is watching me … Walking down as everyone is watching you, I feed off of that.”
One of his idols in the wrestling world growing up was four-time world champion Shawn Michaels. He said even now, he finds himself doing little things similar to what he saw Michaels do years ago.
But Fowler was able to meet another famous wrestler during last football season.
Salisbury alumnus Eric Arndt, who formerly competed in the WWE and played football at SU, met with him after the Elite Eight game.
“I didn’t want to come off as a fanboy or whatever,” Fowler said. “He’s a really cool, down-to-earth guy … He gave me some pretty good advice.”
Fowler said he enjoys the aspect of storytelling that is present in each match.
In his view, football and wrestling have some significant differences. In football, Fowler said the goal is to go at 100% from start to finish.
The pacing and goals of wrestling are different.
“Most of it is on the fly, and you’re talking to the guy you’re in the ring with,” Fowler said. “It’s always about trying to develop and tell a story in the ring.”
By NICK LEWIS
Featured photo: Mike Fowler image.