When men weighing over 300 pounds touch a football, we hear music. And on those cherished occasions when they score touchdowns, we’re treated to glorious symphonies.
It’s the way their hands melt around the foreign object like butter on a sizzling frying pan. It’s the pitter-pattering of their gigantic bricks known as feet and the unfamiliar rhythm they attempt without practice. It’s when chaos and slow-motion meet for dinner and rack up a tremendous tab.
It’s why Shaun Rogers, B.J. Raji, Sam Adams and William “The Refrigerator” Perry—some tipping the scales at 350-ish pounds—will be celebrated for eternity. Each scored a touchdown despite playing at ponderous weights.
350 pounds? Is that all?
What about 6'7" and 390 pounds? And what happens when there is no melting butter or awkward large-man chaos? What happens when the entire sequence looks, well, natural?
“Well, first of all,” Baylor offensive coordinator Kendal Briles said, uncorking his ear-pleasing Texan drawl while simultaneously laboring to hold back laughter. “You’re about 40 pounds off.”
The quest to understand how the largest touchdown came to be—the end-zone visit to end all end-zone visits—begins here, with a 32-year-old coordinator and the son of a football necromancer sizing up LaQuan McGowan, Baylor’s no-longer-secret weapon.
On January 1, with a stocked cupboard of skill-position talent to move on his football chessboard and future NFL players at quarterback and running back, head coach Art Briles and his son Kendal dialed up a play for a reserve offensive lineman, hoping to deliver an unanticipated deathblow to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.
It was not by chance or luck. In fact, it was quite the opposite. It took months of preparation and a player large enough—and freakishly gifted enough—to pull the whole thing off.
“It was the brainchild of Art Briles,” the younger Briles said of the play. “It was one of his babies.”
Before you can even comprehend the play itself, you must know how this baby was conceived.
There was Art Briles, maestro of the scheme and the poster child for offensive innovation and Texas football. There was his son, Kendal, his promising young assistant and the one responsible for pulling the appropriate cord at the appropriate time. There was Michigan State, one of the nation’s hottest programs, playing the role of pinata in this particular instance and then grabbing the bat shortly after.
And then, of course, there was McGowan, the oversized guard from Amarillo, Texas, whose official Baylor bio begins with the word “enormous.”
That is not intended to be a joke. Look for yourself. It’s also not completely accurate.
It’s not false advertising. McGowan is indeed enormous. But categorizing his size doesn’t do justice to his incredible range as an athlete. With the script in place and the necessary details accounted for, everything went off as planned.
As a result, truly exceptional moments came out of this play outside the touchdown itself.
1. There was star Baylor wideout Antwan Goodley—listed at 220 lbs on his bio—attempting to lift McGowan in the air to celebrate only to abort this plan midair after considering how the laws of gravity would impact his football future.
2. There was Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh’s new head coach and Mark Dantonio’s longtime masterful defensive coordinator—the anti-Briles—having a football breakdown on national television, and understandably so.
3. There were the Baylor fans maximizing their celebrations, uncertain of what just transpired but thrilled by the three-score lead. Their faces radiated both joy and bewilderment.
4. And, best of all, there was confusion followed by deafening silence coming from the ESPN broadcast booth. Dave Pasch, an absolute pro, scrambled for the name of the colossus wearing a wideout’s uniform.
No one was prepared for this. Well, no one outside of the Baylor sideline was, at least.
“It was pretty incredible. It really was,” Briles added. “The ball looked like a TDY (Youth) football in his hands.”
The play, while simple in nature, took months to perfect. And before the dynamic Briles duo ever dreamed up the idea and pitched it to McGowan, the player first had to show something that told them he was up for the task.
As the nation’s No. 734-ranked player and No. 41-ranked guard in the class of 2011, according to 247Sports, McGowan was an all-district offensive and defensive lineman before arriving at Baylor. He was also an all-district placekicker, played basketball and was a state champion in shot put.
This, in many ways, starts to paint a fuller picture of the athlete. It’s easy to be dazzled by his sheer size—as I was as I began researching the piece—although I quickly realized that McGowan was more than just a vending machine with feet.
“You can come out here and play catch with him like you can with [Baylor wideout] Corey Coleman,” Briles said. “He’s just incredibly skilled, and we wanted to do something with him.”
Having recognized the athlete’s outsized talents long before the rest of us, Baylor crafted a package of plays with McGowan as the centerpiece. The idea really took shape in the second half of the regular season. Before each practice ended, the offense would run the play at least once to work on the execution.
Call it father-son bonding time or just dedicated offensive planning; regardless, it worked out brilliantly. They knew that if the right opportunity presented itself in an actual game, they might have a home run.
“We wanted to get him inside 30 yards,” Briles said. “We felt like if we could get him around that point of the field, if we caught it clean and had a chance to run, he wouldn’t get brought down.”
After living only through conversations and repetitions, the moment arrived. On second down from Michigan State’s 18-yard line, the younger Briles found his ideal situation with the third-quarter clock bleeding toward zero. Even though it was his first-ever game calling plays, he didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.
“I wanted to make first downs and touchdowns,” Briles said. “I wanted to give us an opportunity to win. That was the main thing.”
With Michigan State’s defense still wobbly after giving up a handful of deep balls already, McGowan entered the game—his No. 80 jersey looking painted on.
“I saw that everybody was set and that he was an eligible receiver,” Briles said. “So I knew we were good there. We got the snap clean, Bryce got it to him and I knew when he caught it he was going to score.”
There was an incredible smoothness to it all. Bryce Petty’s quick-pop pass hit McGowan’s hands, which gave the same comforting flex as many of the gifted wideouts on his team.
He looked comfortable in space, knowing precisely where he had to be, when he had to be there and when to look for the ball. And, perhaps most impressive about the score, McGowan looked shockingly quick—not just large-man quick, but quick—once he had possession and glided by.
Bleacher Report video analyst Michael Felder—a former collegiate defensive back and an X's and O's scholar—was able to see beyond the euphoria of a large human being scoring. Here’s why it worked.
“Bryce Petty, the offensive line and the running back start the play with run action to the right side,” Felder said. "That draws in the Spartan linebackers and the safety to follow. Meanwhile, on the other side of the play Marcus Rush doesn't get a hand on McGowan, letting the big kid slip free. At the same time, Ed Davis is expanded too far outside and doesn't recognize that McGowan is an eligible receiver on the play.
“That mistake, coupled with Taiwan Jones being sucked into the play action, creates a huge space for Petty to hit McGowan. The big kid does the rest by getting into the end zone.”
Your eyes did not deceive you.
McGowan, incredible measurements and all, ran away from pretty much everyone once he caught the ball. This, again, was no surprise to those who have seen the reps unfold behind the curtain.
“He runs the 40 in five seconds flat,” Briles said. “He’s a massive individual but also very skilled.”
The expected success didn’t stop the Baylor sideline from losing its mind. Not only did the play go off as planned, but it came at a point in the matchup—and in the season—where it looked to be the final chapter written about a long, winding journey.
As a result, the players and coaches allowed their regimented programming to lapse, even for a short while. McGowan nearly joined them. In fact, this was the only part of the plan that wasn’t executed perfectly.
“OK, here’s the thing. I had a little celebration dance I was going to do,” McGowan told Brice Cherry and John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald. “I’m not a big dancer, but I’ve been working on this dance for probably two weeks. I was about to do it, and as soon as I turned around I saw Antwan Goodley right in my face. He told me to jump, he said, ‘Jump up,’ and I was like, ‘OK.’ I went for it. I jumped.”
“It was mayhem,” Briles recalled, viewing the moment from a far different perspective. “It sure felt like that should have catapulted us to victory, but unfortunately it didn’t.”
History followed history. Michigan State’s 21 fourth-quarter points ultimately gave the Spartans a 42-41 final edge in one of the finest games of the bowl season.
McGowan’s touchdown was toppled by a Connor Cook touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining. Mayhem gave way to agony, although it didn’t erase a moment that will be celebrated by hopeful linemen for ages.
Some hope to become Marcus Mariota. Others try to emulate Leonard Williams. And some playing in far less-discussed roles hope they can be the next LaQuan McGowan, even for only 15 seconds. The problem with this plan is most men his size simply aren't blessed with these types of physical gifts.
“We were talking about it,” Briles said. “He may be the biggest guy to ever score a touchdown in college football.”
If there’s one larger, we’d love to see it.
Whatever the scale might have said—whether it was 390 pounds or something more—it’s going to require a truly gargantuan effort to knock McGowan off of his industrial-sized throne. And, significant to the general watching experience, his life as an offensive weapon might not be over.
When asked about McGowan’s future in the offense and whether this was only a one-time event, Briles couldn’t fight back the laughter.
“He’s got another year of eligibility,” he said, refusing to dive any further.
The laughter eventually gave way to silence, perhaps even thought, as the music sheets for the next great touchdown symphony were tucked away.
Adam Kramer is National College Football Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.