Baylor coach Art Briles calls LaQuan McGowan 2034.
That’s the year Briles thinks 6-foot-7, 400-pound offensive linemen like McGowan will be the norm instead of the exception.
But McGowan will have to beat out Australian Blake Muir to win Baylor’s starting left guard spot in 2014.
“LaQuan is a freak of nature,” Briles said. “Like I’ve said, it’s 2034 with him. He’s a guy that just doesn’t exist anywhere, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be the player. Blake is unbelievably productive. And at the end of the day, it’s all about being productive.”
McGowan and Muir have staged one of the best position battles during Baylor’s preseason camp with both getting a lot of reps with the first-team offense.
The other four offensive line spots are set with all-Big 12 left tackle Spencer Drango, right tackle Troy Baker, right guard Desmine Hilliard and center Kyle Fuller. But the competition between McGowan and Muir will likely continue throughout the next two weeks leading up to the Aug. 31 season opener against SMU.
For a big man like McGowan, keeping pace in Baylor’s fast-tempo offense is a major challenge.
“For me, it’s trying to stay in for four quarters instead of getting tired and having the coaches use timeouts and try to pull me out of the game,” McGowan said. “Another thing is consistency, just going hard every play instead of taking one play off or two plays off.’ ”
McGowan said he’s been big since he came out of the womb weighing 13 pounds. He feels comfortable playing at 400 pounds, but doesn’t want to tip the scales any higher.
“I’m around 400, but once it gets up to 405, 410, that’s when it becomes a weight issue,” McGowan said. “But not when I’m staying close to 400 pounds. That’s when it’s just like, ‘Oh, well, that’s just LaQuan.”
After making all-state at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch in Amarillo, McGowan redshirted at Baylor in 2011 and didn’t see any action the next season. He finally played as a reserve offensive lineman last season, and is getting his chance to start now as a fourth-year junior.
McGowan knows All-American Cyril Richardson set a high standard at left guard as a senior last season before he was drafted in the fifth round by the Buffalo Bills.
“Three years is kind of a long time, but there’s always room for improvement,” McGowan said. “I mean Cyril, you can’t really top that — All-American, NFL draft. Cyril’s a great athlete, so I’ve got to step my game up so we can be a good team this year. Obviously I’m bigger and stronger, but he could move a lot better.”
While McGowan is trying to keep his weight under control, the 6-6 Muir put on about 20 pounds during the offseason to push his weight to 312. After playing offensive tackle at the University of Hawaii, Muir believes the extra size and strength will allow him to deal with the rigors of playing in the interior offensive line.
“It wasn’t absolutely necessary to put on weight, but I think it helps because I feel good with it,” Muir said. “I played left tackle at Hawaii, so it was a little different. You get more space to deal with at tackle. At guard it’s a little more compact, but I think I’m doing pretty good.”
Growing up in Sydney, Australia, Muir was a champion swimmer and rugby player who only knew American football by watching it on television or through video games.
After graduating from Kirrawee High School in 2008, he began training at a gym near his house. The owner of the gym was Peter Upham, who was the president and coach of the Sutherland Seahawks which played American football in a league around Sydney, and Muir joined the team.
“I wanted to do something different,” Muir said. “I had just finished high school and the local club was five minutes from my house. I had been learning about American football for a while and it was quite different from anything in Australia. I got into the gym with my brother (Sean Muir) and lifted a lot of weights.”
Muir got a scholarship offer from the University of Hawaii in 2011. Following a redshirt year, he started all 12 games for the Warriors in 2012, but felt he could develop his skills better at another college program.
With its history of producing NFL-caliber linemen, Baylor fit the ball for Muir. Both Blake and younger brother Sean, also an offensive lineman, signed with Baylor last year. Under NCAA transfer rules, Blake had to sit out last season but adjusted to Baylor’s up-tempo offensive style.
“Hawaii played more of a West Coast style of offense, but here it’s faster and you feel you can use your athletic ability a little more,” Muir said. “I’m happy to play anywhere. I’ll play left guard, I played a little bit of center in the spring. I like to be versatile like that, and I think that helps me, too.”
The biggest change for Muir at Baylor is not being near the Pacific Ocean like he was in Australia and Hawaii.
“Honestly, I’ve never been this far from the ocean,” Muir said. “Back home in Australia, I live like five minutes from the beach. And in Hawaii, it’s surrounded by water, too. I went down (to the Gulf Coast) over Easter break, to Port Aransas, for a couple days. And that was nice.”