Meet LaQuan McGowan, Baylor's 400-pound tight end

WACO, Texas -- Shortly after Baylor's "Friday Night Lights" scrimmage last week, LaQuan McGowan took in the photo capturing the second-biggest moment of his college football career.

The Bears' mammoth tight end had broken free down the seam of the field, snagged a pass and smashed through intrepid free safety Mallory Franklin, who dared to duck in his path.

"I'm 400 pounds," McGowan said. "Just doesn't seem fair or even."

Baylor inside linebacker Grant Campbell would agree.

During the first week of practice this spring, McGowan exploded off the line and met Campbell, who had sprinted right for him. Campbell later would explain that he wanted to see what would happen if he just hit McGowan as hard as he could.

"That wasn't the smartest idea," McGowan said.

The encounter left the 230-pound Campbell staring up at the sky, prompting coach Art Briles to summarily bar McGowan from anymore contact in practice.

"It could have been really bad," McGowan said. "I have to watch how I hit people because it doesn't take much effort for me to knock someone over.

"But once the season starts, they're going to turn me loose again."

That's a frightening proposition for Baylor's 2015 opponents, who will have to deal with the unprecedented issue of matching up against a 6-foot-7, 410-pound tight end, who not only can decapitate defenders, but possesses the agility to run routes and has enormous, yet soft, hands.

"You can throw a ball as hard as you can at Quan, and he's going to catch it like this," said Baylor offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, picking up an iPhone case off his desk. "It's incredible."

Long before he hauled in a touchdown pass in the Cotton Bowl, McGowan had dazzled teammates in practice with a knack for snatching any ball tossed in his direction.

"He can catch passes one-handed, behind his back," said receiver KD Cannon. "He can do it all. His hands are so big. It's really fun to watch."

After watching McGowan warm up with the quarterbacks and receivers before every practice last season, Art Briles decided he wanted to install a play for the backup guard.

"That was Coach Briles' baby," Kendal Briles said of his father.

The Bears had planned to unleash McGowan in the regular-season finale against Kansas State, but never found the right moment.

But in their bowl game against Michigan State, McGowan's moment finally came.

Lining up to the left on the weak side of an unbalanced formation, McGowan looked up to see if any of the Spartans' defenders had noticed him. They hadn't.

"That's when I knew I had it," he said.

McGowan easily hauled in a 21-yard touchdown reception to deliver the most memorable highlight in a wild 42-41 loss chock-full of them.

If Baylor's spring scrimmage was any indication, many more pass-catching highlights could be on the way. But McGowan confessed he still watches the Cotton Bowl catch daily on YouTube, noting how it was a "proud moment" for him.

"It opened doors for me," McGowan said of the play, which inspired his audition for tight end this spring.

That wasn't the first time, though, he has seen doors opened for him.

McGowan grew up in a rough Dallas neighborhood. So rough that his mother feared he might not ever make it out. When he was 11 years old, she enrolled him at the Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, a nonprofit school with about 250 students outside Amarillo, Texas, that takes in at-risk boys and girls.

"I remember first bumping into him in the dining hall line," said Mike Wilhelm, the school's chaplain. "I thought he was a junior in high school."

Being that big that young wasn't easy. McGowan kept mostly to himself at first. But sports eventually gave him an outlet.

Ironically, McGowan didn't enjoy contact initially, so he tried out for the cross country team his sophomore year.

"I did it for like two days," McGowan said. "Then I realized that was too much running."

Eventually, McGowan grew to love football. He starred for the basketball team, too.

The school, however, had difficulty finding basketball shoes for McGowan, who wore a Size 22 by the time he reached high school. Dan Adams, Cal Farley's president, tried everywhere, including the Dallas Mavericks, to find shoes that would fit. The Mavs couldn't help, either. But they put Adams in touch with the Phoenix Suns, who had the solution: Shaquille O'Neal wore the same size.

"This big box shows up in my office and it's two pair of Size 22 shoes from Shaq," Adams said. "LaQuan was just beaming."

McGowan doesn't know where he'd be now had he not gone to Cal Farley.

"I think one thing I always needed that I never had was a dad," McGowan said. "Every kid needs a father figure and the Boys Ranch kind of did that for me even though there were a bunch of different people there that filled that role."

Wilhelm and Adams were two of those men.

"LaQuan is a special person and it has nothing to do with his size," said Wilhelm, who recalled the time McGowan spent a spring break delivering food to kids who lived in a tough neighborhood in Amarillo. "He's a big man, but he has a big heart, too."

Through football, McGowan has given the Cal Farley kids another person to look up to.

"Even the younger kids who've never met him, they know LaQuan, they know about the Cotton Bowl catch," said Wilhelm, who's noticed a wave of green and gold attire surfacing on campus. "He's become a hero to a bunch of kids who have come here from all kinds of unfortunate backgrounds and needed a hero."

Another door is open for McGowan. Best of luck to anyone who tries to stop him.