CALUMET TWP. | Nick Fowler lacked confidence during the early portion of his high school athletic career, to the point of anxiety attacks on the football field and wrestling mat.
Things are different now.
"(Confidence has) always been kind of a problem for me," the Calumet senior said. "The nerves are always going to be there but having accomplished (what I have this season), I feel like I can make it a lot further than what I've done before."
He took top honors at 195 pounds in both the Harvest Classic and the Griffith Super Duals. But it was the first place medal around his neck after the Al Smith Invitational in Mishawaka last week that let Fowler know just what kind of wrestler he was.
"I always thought (Al Smith) was impossible for me to win," Fowler said. "I always thought I could never be that good, up until the point of actually winning it.
"It was a burst of confidence and I've never been the most self-confident person. Now that that's happened, I feel like I can actually make it to state. I can actually place at state. I can actually get to that final."
Fowler placed sixth at Al Smith a year ago. Coach Jim Wadkins doesn't think Fowler would've accepted that as a senior.
"Mishawaka was a big eye-opener for him. I think in the back of his mind, there might have been a little bit of doubt," Wadkins said. "I think he knows 'I can wrestle with the big boys.' I think he believes it now."
The No. 6 ranked 195-pounder in the state according to Indianamat.com carries a 20-0 record, including seven pins, a technical fall and two major decisions. Fowler's career numbers are 118-27 with 62 falls.
"He can wrestle in a flurry," head assistant coach Andy Trevino, a Calumet state champ in 1991, said. "Especially this year, he's been making people wrestle his match. He's controlling the tempo."
The Fowlers are a Calumet wrestling family, starting with semistate qualifier Uncle Artty (1991) and two-time state qualifier father Eddie (1992). The next win makes Nick Fowler 12th on the school wins list, passing older brother and 2010 Calumet graduate Nathan.
"As a family, they know what it takes to be a wrestler on and off the mat. They understand the work that has to be put into it," Trevino said.
Wadkins actually keeps track of sibling win totals. The Fowler brothers --Nick, Nathan, Noah (2014) and Kobe (2016)-- top that list with 337. But Nick is the first to win at Al Smith. Nathan never finished better than second at the Mishawaka tournament.
"Trying to get those bragging rights over my brothers is always a good thing to do," Fowler said.
The loss in the opening round at semistate during his junior season changed Fowler. He said the big stage "shook his mind up," adding to the pressure he'd already put on himself.
"It really put a mental scar, motivation into my head," Fowler said. "That's all I've thought about through football, even through the (wrestling) season and through to now."
"I'd like to see him wrestle on the second day at state," Wadkins said. "And once you're there, why not win?"
It's tradition at Calumet to place the names of state qualifiers on the walls of the wrestling room. Fowler cant' see his season ending without his name being added to that list.
"It has be state. It has to. And I can't even just make it to the qualifying round. I have to make it to the second day of state," he said. "I need to leave my name up on that wall, to leave my mark on the school."