Provo • Squally Canada ran for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Tanner Mangum solidly managed the game. Sione Takitaki made a sack and 13 tackles and earned National Defensive Player of the Week honors. Zayne Anderson recorded his third career interception to set up a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
But the BYU football player who “won the game for us” against national power Wisconsin, according to head coach Kalani Sitake, was sixth-year senior Gavin Fowler.
Fowler, 25, has been with the program since 2011 when he walked on after starting at quarterback for Kaysville’s Davis High for three years. But he has never attempted a pass for the Cougars, and has made just one assisted tackle.
He’s been the primary holder on PATs and field goals since the start of the 2017 season, and it was in that role that the graduate student in public administration who wants to one day be a football coach saved BYU in the 24-21 win at Camp Randall Stadium. Fowler corralled a snap from Mitch Harris that was low and outside, and placed it in time for Skyler Southam to drill the game-winning 45-yard field goal with nine minutes, 58 seconds remaining.
“Gavin Fowler, a guy who has been solid for us for so many years, who has just always been a team guy, who really goes unnoticed at what he does but takes it seriously,” Sitake said immediately after the game. “That won us the game. He took a bad snap, put it down calmly, and let Skyler kick it fully.”
Monday, Sitake repeated his praise for Fowler, son of television broadcaster and former BYU backup quarterback Blaine Fowler and brother of former BYU safety Kellen Fowler.
“That hold … is something nobody will talk about enough,” Sitake said. “But we knew about it. The whole team knew about it.”
Gavin Fowler brushed aside talk of him being a hero Monday, saying he just did what he’s practiced doing since spring ball six months ago with Harris, a junior from Gilbert, Ariz., who was also an outstanding player in high school but has settled for a niche role at BYU.
“When we knew we were getting into scoring position we got ready and went out and executed it the way we have done it in practice hundreds of times,” Fowler said. ”It was a high-pressure moment in the game. But for the whole field goal unit, it was just doing what we practice every day.”
Snapping on field goals and PATs is “not an easy thing,” Fowler continued. “So you just get used to handling it however you can and getting it down there for the kicker to do his thing.”
Fowler’s journey has also been anything but easy. He was in the rotation at cornerback in the spring of 2015, following a church mission to Long Beach, Calif., but on the last day of spring practice he tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee. After more than a year of rehabilitation, he was running through a drill in the first practice after BYU defeated Arizona in the 2016 opener and tore the ACL in his right knee, causing him to miss the remainder of the 2016 season.
Having graduated with a degree in communication, he easily could have moved on. Instead, he rehabbed again and got the payoff on a hot, humid Saturday in Wisconsin.
“I felt like I needed to do it for my teammates,” he said. “Because of the support I got from them, I felt like I owed it to my brothers on the team to still come back and do what I could. I didn’t know if my role would be the same or if it would change. But I knew if I didn’t do everything I could to help the team, I was letting them down.”
Fowler is one of the few bridges left between the Bronco Mendenhall era and the Sitake era, which began while he was still recovering from the first knee injury. Those days of playing a full-time position are probably gone, but his opportunity to make an impact certainly are not.
“Probably my biggest role is just kind of a mentor role for the younger guys and helping them learn the schemes of our defense and our special teams and understanding how they can contribute no matter what class they are in,” he said. “Freshman, sophomore, it doesn’t matter. Everybody can contribute in a way.”
And win games for the team, if it comes to that.
Gavin Fowler File
• Davis High’s starting quarterback for three years before walking on at BYU in 2011
• Redshirted in 2011 before serving a church mission to Long Beach, Calif.
• Took a medical redshirt in 2016 after sustaining a second ACL injury in practice after opener
• Played in 12 games in 2017 as BYU’s primary holder on PATs and field goals
• Made the hold on Skyler Southam’s game-winning 45-yard field goal against Wisconsin