Ryan Fowler's first three years at Seminole High School in Redington Shores, Fla., have an eerily similar storyline to his last three years as a Blue Devil. Both of the teams results could be summed up in one word--futile.

In an attempt to salvage his senior season, Fowler helped his high school teammates turn it around with an 8-2 mark for the year and an appearance in the prestigious Florida state tournament. The linebacker's thoughts about Duke's upcoming season are very comparable.

"I said it when I came in that it was going to take some time but we'd make it to a bowl game," Fowler said. "I still believe we are going to do that this year. Each year we've improved as a team."

Perhaps his tenure at Duke has been slightly more unsuccessful than his first years in high school, but Fowler believes this Blue Devil team possesses the ability to make a run into the postseason. There is no doubt that the linebacker can hold his own on his side of the football field.

With nine defensive players returning, Duke has a core that has played together last season and worked out during the off season. The grueling heat did not stop Fowler or fellow linebackers Giuseppe Aguanno and Brendan Dewan to pump some iron this summer and improve on speed and strength; two key elements in a linebacker's game.

"We didn't just work on endurance, but getting bigger and faster too," Fowler said. "These guys have really worked out a lot this summer. That's what it's going to take to win some games this season."

The Blue Devils lost five games last season by five points or less and several of those games were lost on last second scores. With six returning linebackers and two freshman to add to the list, the Blue Devils secondary should be able to work as a group to contain the opposition's offensive outbursts. Consequently, Fowler is confident in his defense to make crucial stops down the stretch and seal victories.

"The wins were just an inch or two away last season," Fowler said. "We've got a strong foundation to build on and I think we are going to be a team to contend with this year."

As a middle linebacker, Fowler has the best vantage point to see what the opposition is running in the backfield, and also if his teammates are out of position. After leading the team in tackles the past three seasons, Fowler's main emphasis this year is making sure the rest of his defensive teammates are on the same page. If Fowler is able to lead his team in tackles again in 2003, he will be the only Blue Devil to ever lead Duke in tackles for all four seasons.

"This season I'm just trying to be a leader," Fowler said. "The tackles will come and go. I'm just trying to show the younger guys where to be on plays and help the defense."

The Florida native has led the Blue Devils in tackles the past three seasons, an impressive feat even on a team that has not been terribly successful. Last year, he tallied 145 tackles, which was good enough for sixth in Duke history. Ideas of entering the NFL draft are always a possibility for Fowler, who was named as an Honorable Mention pick for the All-ACC team last season.

"I'm confident in Ryan's ability to play at the next level," head coach Carl Franks said. "We don't need him thinking about that yet, but I think he'll be ready next year."

Fowler is hesitant to talk about graduation plans yet, since he has some unfinished business to take care of this year--the senior has one thing in mind.

"We're expecting to make a bowl game this year and we're expecting to win it," Fowler said.