One Thing to Do

Looking to build on his freshman season, Jayden McGowan emphasized focus and offseason work

NASHVILLE, Tenn. Jayden McGowan enters every practice and game with one particular goal. This focused approach to each element of the game has contributed to the sophomore receiver leading Vanderbilt in all-purpose and receiving yards through the first two games this season.

With the team’s sights set on a bowl game, McGowan identified a few of the key components that he feels are helping him improve individually during his second season in Nashville.

Immediate Impact
In his rookie season as a Commodore, McGowan played in all 12 games, catching 44 passes for 453 yards and three touchdowns while also returning 16 kickoffs for 384 yards. Twice, he eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark, making him the third freshman since 2005 to record a 100-yard receiving game and the second rookie in Vanderbilt history to have multiple 100-yard games in a single season.

Based on these marks, he was named to the 2023 Paul Hornung Award Watch List, which is presented annually to the most versatile player in college football.

Serious Studies
One of the ways McGowan has sought to improve his game has been by changing his approach to studying film.

“Last year, I would just watch the film and not really do much with it mentally,” he said. “Now, I take notes on it, write out what kind of leverage they’re playing, how they’re playing every coverage and how they’ll play on me when I’m sliding to the outside.”

Senior wideout Will Sheppard, who McGowan noted “watches a lot of film and takes it all in,” has also influenced his commitment to watching more film and utilizing it more effectively.

In addition to Sheppard’s study of film, the example he sets for the receiver group is something McGowan has identified as contributing to his own growth and development since last season.

“[Sheppard] is always first in line and first to the film room,” McGowan stated. “I get to see how he operates. I know that he’s an NFL talent, and if I want to be an NFL talent, I need to take a page out of his book.”

Starting Season 2
In his sophomore-season opener versus Hawai’i, McGowan returned a kickoff for a 97-yard touchdown, Vandy’s first since 2014 and the fourth-longest in program history. It was something he’d hoped and prayed for. And when he caught the kick, it was something he just felt would happen too, saying “my teammates blocked it up well. I didn’t have to do much but just run.”

In both of Vandy’s first two games of 2023, McGowan has recorded over 100 all-purpose yards, a feat he achieved four times in 12 games played in 2022.

According to McGowan, trust and offseason work have contributed to the confidence and energy of the Vanderbilt offense thus far this season. He recalled being with his teammates on the field and in the film room every day throughout the summer, building trust and belief in each other. He noted that the more they did together, the more they trusted each other and better their timing and result would be on the field.

Eyes Ahead
McGowan’s one goal for Saturday’s game at Wake Forest? To play hard the entire game.

“Last game, the receivers, we looked slow on film,” he admitted. “Now, even if I’m tired, it’s about having detail in my routes and running every route to the best of my ability. Getting backside blocks, backside bubbles or anything, just doing it full speed, playing fast and playing strong.”

As for the whole receiver group, McGowan stated, “we trust each other, we believe in each other, and we just know that we’re going to be able to get the job done on Saturday if we work together as a team and keep doing what Coach (Bailey) is telling us to do.”

Vanderbilt football will play its first road game Saturday in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, when it kicks off at 10 a.m. CT against Wake Forest on ACC Network, 102.5 The Game and the Vanderbilt Athletics app.


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