Jayden McGowan: Vanderbilt’s jack of all trades

In just his second season, Jayden McGowan continues to ascend as Vanderbilt’s gamebreaker.
Jayden McGowan hopes to help Vanderbilt reach their first bowl game since 2018. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Jayden McGowan hopes to help Vanderbilt reach their first bowl game since 2018. (Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Lexie Perez

Despite putting together one of Vanderbilt’s most exciting seasons by a freshman receiver a year ago, Jayden McGowan isn’t a stranger to hitting the ground running. In fact, that might be the very reason he’s in the midst of his second season with the Commodores. 

“I didn’t even have an offer until I ran my first good 100 time,” McGowan laughed. “I love to play the game of football, fast.”

Coming out of Laurens, S.C., McGowan was a two-sport athlete who impressed on the track just as much as he did on the gridiron. In his junior year of high school, the speedster won state championships in both the 100-meter and 200-meter races, cementing himself as one of the fastest athletes in his state.

After being brought in for a private workout before his senior year, McGowan earned a scholarship offer from head coach Clark Lea and his staff. Despite having more than 10 other offers, McGowan chose the Commodores because of the connection he felt with the team. 

“When I came on a visit here, I just loved the coaches and the culture,” McGowan said. “[There’s] really a brotherhood here, and the players really welcomed me in, even as a recruit. Great football and a good education on the way.”

Great football was absolutely on the way for the former track star during his freshman season. McGowan earned a starting position as Vanderbilt’s slot receiver with a strong preseason and repaid his coaching staff’s faith with an impressive season across the board. On offense, McGowan cleared 500 combined receiving and rushing yards as he was deployed all over the field by offensive coordinator Joey Lynch. Despite only getting his first taste of collegiate football, McGowan’s speed and craftiness in the open field continued to give defensive backs and coordinators fits. 

In addition to his success on offense, McGowan made perhaps his biggest contributions to last year’s Commodores as a special teamer. Across his 12 games played, McGowan amassed nearly 400 yards as Vanderbilt’s kick returner, with his average of 24 yards per kick return ranking third in the SEC and 20th across the entire FBS. His efforts were rewarded in December as he was named to the All-SEC third team as a kick returner. Not bad for a freshman season. 

Despite his standout first season, McGowan made sure to note that he worked hard to improve before his second year as a Commodore. Specifically, he mentioned that his hands were a target area for his offseason drills, citing ball security as a skill that he wanted to work on. And with that offseason improvement: loftier goals.

The speedster made sure to mention Vanderbilt’s team goal of a bowl appearance first and foremost, but when it came to him, he wanted to double all of his statistics from last year.

“Freshman year, I’m just getting used to everything, but now I’m kinda getting old,” McGowan snickered. “I want to just have a great impact on this team and help us win.”

And so far, he’s been quick off the blocks. The slot receiver has surpassed five catches and 70 receiving yards in all four appearances in his sophomore season, well on his way to doubling his output as a freshman. And those kick returning chops didn’t go away, either: McGowan broke loose for a 97-yard kick return touchdown in Vanderbilt’s season-opening 35-28 win over Hawaii. 

Coming off of his best receiving game of the season so far, a 5-catch, 81-yard effort versus UNLV, McGowan has established himself as one of quarterback AJ Swann’s top options in their sophomore seasons. The wideout has mostly operated over the middle for Lynch’s offense as the primary slot receiver but also has been key to stretching opposing defenses as secondaries are forced to respect his speed. McGowan’s traits have complemented the rest of the wide receiver room extremely well, with the group representing one of Vanderbilt’s bright spots heading into conference play. Of course, that statistic didn’t come as much of a surprise to the second-year man.

“We all believe we have the best receiver group in the country, and we just have to prove that on Saturdays,” McGowan said. “We have a lot of talented old and young guys — everybody in there is just good. We all complement each other very well and work well as a team together.”

Alongside star wideout Will Sheppard, McGowan has high aspirations for the group entering conference play. With a challenging set of opponents ahead, McGowan believes that the Commodores are yet to reach their potential for what this season could lead to. 

“We’re not where we want to be now, but we’re getting there each and every week. We’re going to keep improving. We’re gonna go out there and be great,” McGowan said.

Above all else, McGowan said enjoying the game is a top priority of his. The wideout looks forward to playing the game he loves every day. 

“I just like to have fun playing football. Some people think it’s strictly business, and I know it becomes more that way as you get older, but I just love the game. It’s never something that stresses me out too much,” McGowan said.

Despite his increasing role, McGowan doesn’t seem to feel the pressure. Just having fun playing football, fast, as he always has. McGowan and the Commodores will open up their conference schedule against Kentucky at home on Sept. 23.

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About the Contributors
Anish Mago
Anish Mago, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Anish Mago ('24) is from West Windsor, N.J., and is studying economics and political science in the College of Arts and Science. He previously served as a staff writer for the Sports section. When not writing for The Hustler, Anish enjoys playing basketball and rooting for all Philly sports. He can be reached at .
Lexie Perez
Lexie Perez, Graphics Editor
Lexie Perez (‘26) is from Northern Virginia and is majoring in climate studies and human and organizational development and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys listening to 70s and 80s pop music, doing the daily Wordle and rooting for the Nashville Predators and Cincinnati Bengals. She can be reached at [email protected].
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A fan!
8 months ago

Great reporting Anish!