McGowan a playmaker on defense for Bulldogs

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Before the season started, Brandon McGowan wasn't drawing much recruiting attention from major college programs.

The North Gwinnett linebacker had offers from several mid-major schools, but nothing from ACC or SEC programs.

After the first three games of the season, McGowan has shown the ability to play at the big-time college level. He hasn't picked up an official offer from a BCS program yet, but has caught the attention of some SEC schools.

"The bigger schools are starting to pick up," McGowan said. "Before they were a little interested, now they are like 'Whoa, this kid might be able to do something.' I'm just gonna keep playing and wait it out."

McGowan has put together a season's worth of highlights through the first three games of the year. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound outside linebacker has made 35 tackles, eight tackles for losses and 31/2 sacks. He even had a fumble return for his first career touchdown.

That kind of production has sparked the interest from schools like Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Maryland as No. 2 North Gwinnett opens Region 7-AAAAA play on Friday against Collins Hill.

"I knew that's what I had to do to get schools like that to give me some attention," McGowan said. "I'm just trying to show them what I can do."

McGowan has more than a half dozen scholarship offers, including Memphis, Buffalo and Air Force.

"He was on a lot of schools' boards as a watch list guy," North Gwinnett coach Bob Sphire said. "But I'm tickled to death with the offers he has now. If he keeps playing like he has, he'll have more options."

And it's not like McGowan has gone out and made plays against sub-par teams. The senior has made them on some of the biggest stages and best teams this year, like the Georgia Dome, on television and against a nationally ranked opponent.

"That brings out the best in me," McGowan said. "When you play good competition, you tend to play better than what you normally would. I think it's the level of competition that really brings it out."

North Gwinnett is 3-0 for the fourth time in five years and ranked No. 14 in the nation by USA Today. They've beaten teams that have a combined record of 37-4 last year.

"We knew if we were going to have a chance in those games then he would have to be our No. 1 guy on defense," Sphire said. "He was going to have to step up and make some plays for us to be 3-0."

In the Corky Kell Classic against last year's state quarterfinalist Lassiter, McGowan had nine tackles and two sacks. He followed that up with a 12-tackle (four for losses) game against Bob Jones (Ala.). He had arguably the best game of his career against nationally ranked Crenshaw (Calif.) with 14 tackles and a 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

"That scoop and score was a game-changing play," Sphire said. "When he did that, it changed the whole way I coached the game."

Even against a speedy Crenshaw team, his ability stood out.

"The game feels almost a step slower," McGowan said. "Like I can see everything better, I can read everything better. I can read offenses better. I think it's a whole experience level."

McGowan has been a two-year starter for the Bulldogs, helping them to an undefeated 2009 regular season and the school's first region football title in more than 50 years of existence. He posted 60 tackles and 41/2 sacks in 13 games last year with little recognition. But that's not the case this season.

"He made some plays last season that didn't get quite the ink because he was surrounded by so many good seniors," Sphire said. "I always thought he was a gamer and played his best under the lights when the band is playing. He's got a lot of ability."

College recruiters are finding that out now, too.