EARLY — Early High School senior Jim Fowler isn’t living the dream just year — but he’s gotten closer.

       Fowler has won a nomination from U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Class of 2022. Conaway’s nomination doesn’t guarantee him a spot, as his ultimate acceptance will be determined by the academy.

       If Fowler is admitted, he will be only the third Brown County student since the 1980s to attend a service academy and the first in more than a decade.

       “I’m just really excited,” said Fowler, who  received Conaway’s nomination after recently attending a six-person interview board in San Angelo. When he learned he’d Conaway’s nod, the news was “a shocker, Fowler said.”

       Fowler, who hopes to become an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, said he has a military heritage through his family. “My great-grandfather was a Marine and I took pride in that,” Fowler said.

       While Fowler hopes he’ll be accepted into the academy, he has another plan in case that does not work out: earning an officer’s commission by attending Texas A&M University as an ROTC student.

       Fowler earlier visited the Naval Academy as an invitee at the Navy’s expense.

       “This in an existing moment for Jim,” said Fowler’s grandmother, Diana Kelcy. “That boy’s going places. What can I say? We’re just thrilled. It’s a big honor.”

       If Fowler wins the appointment and graduates from the academy, he will have obtained an education valued at more than $400,000.

       Early High School principal Robert Weyman said he “couldn’t be any prouder of the young man. I don’t see how they could turn him down.

       “Jim really speaks well of the kind of kids we have at Early High School, and we’re really proud of him.”

       The service academy appointments of Brown County students occur “not often enough,” retired Brownwood ophthalmologist Dr. Steve Kelly, who with Dr. Dan Locker, also retired, services on Conway’s committee that nominates applicants, said earlier.

       “We haven’t had anybody for several years.”

       The last Brown County student to be appointed to a service academy was Joey Ellis, who graduated from Brownwood High School in the early 2000′s, Kelly said. The last two before Ellis were two Brownwood High graduates in the ’80s, he said.

A handful of other students have applied over the years but could not meet the rigorous standards in one or more areas, Kelly said. Others started the application process but did not follow through.

       A high school student can be nominated by a U.S. congressman or senator, and there are also presidential and vice-presidential nominations, Kelly said. There are also athletic appointments, he said.

       The criteria for admittance to a service academy are character, intelligence, leadership and physical fitness, Kelly said.

       “The competition is fierce nationwide,” Kelly said. “They want the best of the best. It’s tough. It requires a significant commitment. A service academy education is one where kids will reach their maximum potential — academically, physically, mentally and leadership-wise.”

       Class size at the Naval Academy is about 1,000 each year, but that number can vary depending on the needs of the Navy, Kelly said.