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Dick Harmon: Never underestimate value of BYU, Utah, USU backup QBs

Published: Saturday, Aug. 29 2015 12:09 a.m. MDT

Quarterback #13 Riley Nelson points to a teammate during football practice Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Quarterback #13 Riley Nelson points to a teammate during football practice Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

It'll be Adam Kennedy, Alex Hart or Chuckie Keeton at Utah State. At Utah, the names are Jon Hays or Tyler Shreve. At BYU, it will be either Riley Nelson or James Lark.

The Backup QBs R Us Club.

Do not discount their value.

Blaine Fowler sat on a stool in KSL studios last Sunday and talked football.

He's smart, articulate, engaging and likable. He was also a career backup QB. And in his day, in high school, he was a player.

This TV perch is something Fowler has been used to for years as a color analyst on regional sports television including the Mtn. network and now BYUtv. He has traveled all over the country doing football and basketball games. He knows coaching staffs and head coaches call him by his first name.

Quarterbacks #12 Jason Munns, left, and #9 Jake Heaps, right, work out during BYU football practice Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Quarterbacks #12 Jason Munns, left, and #9 Jake Heaps, right, work out during BYU football practice Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

I bring this up because of a unique flashback I had about Fowler three decades ago when I talked to him for the first time by phone when he was just a teen in New York.

The other day while cleaning out some files my wife wanted dumped in the trash, I found a box that contained a manila folder. I opened the file and saw my handwritten and typed notes from interviews with Fowler during his senior year of high school. There were also photographs, newspaper clippings and index cards with home phone numbers and street addresses for Fowler, another QB recruit named Robbie Bosco from Roseville, Calif., and Escondido, Calif., QB Sean Salisbury, a former USC quarterback now with ESPN.

I thought I'd remind folks of just who Fowler was back in the day.

This is relevant because after a column this past week on BYU third-string quarterback James Lark, I received a blistering email from a reader who thought Cougar coaches were dishonest in recruiting current starting QB Jake Heaps when they'd invested and recruited Lark out of Pine View High.

Quarterbacks Riley Nelson, left, and #9 Jake Heaps workout during BYU football practice Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Quarterbacks Riley Nelson, left, and #9 Jake Heaps workout during BYU football practice Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

I'm sure there are others in the Nelson camp, also naturally frustrated.

Every team needs a Fowler. Utah proved last year they certainly needed both Jordan Wynn and Terrance Cain.

Remember 1992 when BYU started out with John Walsh at QB, who got hurt? Norm Chow then turned to Texan Steve Clements who also got hurt in his first start. Chow then turned to baseball pitcher Ryan Hancock, who made all-conference but he too suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the Utah game. BYU finished the season in the Aloha Bowl with Tom Young at QB, after BYU tied for the WAC title.

Never underestimate the role of a backup QB.

Fowler, you see, was always a backup quarterback at BYU. His moment in the sun came in the 1984 Holiday Bowl when he came in briefly for an injured Bosco and admirably and respectably kept momentum going against Michigan.

Quarterbacks #3 James Lark, left, and #12 Jason Munns, right, work out during BYU football practice Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News) Quarterbacks #3 James Lark, left, and #12 Jason Munns, right, work out during BYU football practice Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News)

The QB position is the most important in college or the NFL. Period.

So much hinges on that position on every down, every play. Teams are only as good as their backups.

Fowler earned the Ernie Davis Award at his high school, an honor named after the first black Heisman Trophy winner, who came out of Fowler's high school in Elmira, N.Y., and played in the same backfield with legendary Jim Brown before dying young of leukemia.

Fowler took recruiting trips to Syracuse, Rutgers, North Carolina and Wake Forest. He had an invitation to visit Purdue. All the Ivy League schools wanted Fowler to visit, and he had strong pitches from Penn State and Pitt. Syracuse wanted him to replace Bill Hurley; Pitt told him he'd have a chance to replace Dan Marino.

Fowler had 5,092 yards total offense in his high school career and led the league in scoring. He set area records in career yards, career passing yards, career touchdown passes, single-season passing yards, single-season total offense and was only the second person to letter four years in varsity football at Elmira Free Academy.

Utah State University QB Alex Hart  throws during the Blue/White scrimmage in Logan, Utah, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) Utah State University QB Alex Hart throws during the Blue/White scrimmage in Logan, Utah, Saturday, Aug. 21, 2010. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Fowler also lettered in basketball and track. He was the point guard on a squad that went 70-8 in three years, a school record.

"He knows the game as well as anyone I've seen in 15 years," his coach Dick Senko told me. "This kid can play wide receiver, running back and on defense he is a vicious hitter. I don't think BYU truly realizes his potential or how good he has become," said Senko.

Against Union Endicott, the top team in New York, Fowler destroyed, "shredded their defense" is how Senko put it. Endicott decided to drop nine in coverage against Fowler and Senko told him to take off and run — for 177 yards.

All these years, Fowler has never dwelt on the bitter part of how his college career lived in the shadow of Robbie Bosco, his roommate and best friend, who was recruited the same year to BYU.

Jon Hays passes during University of Utah football practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Jon Hays passes during University of Utah football practice at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

At one point Fowler talked to Frank Kush at ASU about transferring so he could start. But it never progressed. Fowler decided to bide his time in case Bosco got injured.

A career reserve?

If it ate him alive like it did his family and friends, he's never let it show.

Fowler was a loyal teammate and believed in the ideal that the team supersedes the individual. He sacrificed and stood on the sidelines while Bosco delivered BYU's only undefeated season, a role he'd had before and knew very well.

But the Fowler story is how college and high school careers go for a majority of athletes — it's just the way it is.

Folks at BYU will tell you Fowler's value was golden on that team. He got his education, and met and married his wife while in Provo. He even lived in the home of Kyle Whittingham's parents, Fred and Nancy.

Did he waste his career as a backup?

Listen to him on TV broadcasts. Weigh his analytical skills on BYUtv or KSL and judge. He is an expert, credible and believable.

Fowler will always be a star in my book, just the way he appeared in this aging manila folder my wife wanted tossed that day.

In a perfect world, Fowler should have been given a chance to start. He never did. It doesn't diminish who he is and what he has become, or what he did for his team.

Never judge a backup role as to be of no significant value.

A backup QB is certainly anything but that.

email: dharmon@desnews.com

Twitter: Harmonwrites

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