By BRAD KEITH
On the outside, Cary Fowler is determined to remain cool, calm and collected.
But don't be fooled when you see him on the Tarleton Memorial Stadium sideline. Every possible emotion will be running through the Texans' new head coach when his team hosts Northeastern State in the 2010 season opener for both schools.
"It's just football," Fowler said. "I'll be calm. I always am. But that doesn't mean it won't be emotional."
Fowler says he'll be jumping with players to celebrate big plays, and that he'll gladly take part in - and possibly even create - a lot of the excitement.
"They'll be running all over the place looking for my headset, just like when I was a defensive coordinator," he said. "I'm a gas pedal man. When I get going, I go all out."
But on the outside - to his team, especially - Fowler plans for that excitement to come across in a calm, confident matter.
He knows his team wasn't so confident walking off the field after edging Northeastern by a slim 6-0 margin last fall. With that in mind, Fowler certainly doesn't look for anything to come easy as the Texans look to win their sixth straight over the Riverhawks, and their ninth home opener in 11 years.
"Northeastern is always going to be good on defense," Fowler said. "(NSU head coach) Kenny Evans has always been a successful defensive coach; he was a good defensive coach when he was at North Texas.
"On offense they have one quarterback who can pass the ball and two who can really run with it," Fowler continued. "They'll run some no huddle stuff and be multiple. They'll be better on that side of the ball."
Northeastern hopes to be better all around after going just 2-9 last season and 3-19 in Evans' first two years at the helm.
Tarleton was 10-3 last fall, winning a share of both the Lone Star Conference and South Division crowns before reaching the second round of the Division II playoffs. A lot has changed since then, beginning with Fowler taking over as head coach.
"I've been learning a lot myself, and at the same time I'm teaching a good, young staff and trying to teach a lot of talented football players," he said. "I think sometimes this game is over-coached and under-taught. I try to teach my assistant coaches and players how to handle different situations that can occur within a game."
Fowler backs up that quote daily in practice, spending time on things such as the four-minute drill where his offense works to either grind out the final four minutes of a win, or to use up as much time as possible while finishing the drive with a winning score. He works through two-minute drills, goal line situations and every imaginable scenario in the kicking game.
"Something unexpected is going to happen at some point every game," Fowler said. "What I try to teach is how to handle the situation that unexpected play puts you in."
That's why Fowler likes to throw curve balls at his players and staff during practice, occasionally blowing his whistle and calling for the sudden change drill, where players are forced to react immediately to a change in possession, momentum, field position and more.
Fowler thinks that drill will benefit his team.
"You have to expect the unexpected against Northeastern," said Fowler, who was 6-0 against the Riverhawks as an assistant coach. "A couple years ago they faked a punt against us, and I know they have one of the best kick returners I've ever seen."
That return specialist is former Tarleton standout Nathan Robinson, who has been inactive for two years.
"The kicking game is where a lot of those sudden changes can take place," said Fowler, who coordinates Tarleton's special teams himself. "I think controlling the kicking game is going to be big for us."
A win would be big, too, especially in Fowler's first game.
"Obviously a win would be big for us," he said. "Not just as a big win to start our season, but as a positive start for a new era in our program.
"We're not worried much about what Northeastern's going to try to do," Fowler continued. "I've said from the start that if we control what we can control and do our job without worrying about what anyone else does, we'll be in a position to be successful."