McGowan, Oakman living large at Baylor

Ben Sklar

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Aug. 18 College Football Preview Issue. Subscribe today!

SHAWN OAKMAN AND LAQUAN MCGOWAN, Baylor's biggest big men, are 13 feet and 680 pounds of football glory. We spent two days with the Bears' behemoths and got a glimpse of how they're living large. Here's an extended look at what we learned about two of college football's most beloved monsters:

1. McGowan squeezes into everything

McGowan, a 6-foot-8, 403-pound tight end, squeezes into his silver Ford Taurus to head to his summer theater class. Being this big ain't easy. See those team-issued shoes on his feet? Size 18. Three sizes too small. Just like his game cleats. McGowan, by choice, sticks with footwear that doesn't fit. He has throughout his football career.

Jeff Barlow, Baylor's director of equipment services, found McGowan some size 20s when he arrived on campus. No thank you. They're too heavy to run in. So while a size 18 pinches his toes, McGowan is convinced they help him move faster.

"It's not comfortable," McGowan said, "but I've gotten used to it."

He's not comfortable with being 400 pounds either. McGowan has tried to embrace his circumstances, but he's also tried for years to shed the weight and keep it off.

"People go, 'Oh my god, he's 400 pounds!' I don't want to be 400 pounds," McGowan said. "I'm working towards not being 400 pounds.

"I guess you could say God kind of blessed me to be 400 pounds. ... Either I'm not doing something right when I feel like I'm doing it right -- and I'm working with coaches and nutritionists to try to lose this weight. I keep stepping on that scale and I keep seeing 400. I feel like there's a reason behind it."

2. Oakman -- and his pets -- at home in Waco

When Oakman reflects on getting kicked out of Penn State in 2012, after just eight months on campus, he knows his immaturity made that setback inevitable.

"It was bound to happen," Oakman said. "If it wasn't that year, it was going to be the next year."

He also considers it a blessing. Oakman, a Philly native, had to get far from home. He had to either grow up or give up. He's gained maturity and 30 pounds of muscle since becoming a Bear. When Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett first got in touch and pitched him on a second chance, Oakman had little idea what he was signing up for at Baylor. In fact, he did ask an important question early in the recruitment: Where's Wacko?

These days Oakman, a 6-9, 280-pound defensive end, feels right at home in Waco, where "I can be me and be free." He's been known to walk his bulldogs Dame, Daisy and Duke around town while his pet python, Baloo, rests on his shoulders.

Coach Art Briles lights up when he imagines this scene: "I like it. I didn't know it, but I like it. I mean, we'll sing the choir on Sunday ... but I love that. I couldn't ask him to do anything any better."

Briles probably would approve of Oakman's future plans. He's thinking white python, and he's eyeing another ambitious addition.

"I want an octopus," Oakman said. "I want it all."

3. Big guys in a little boat

McGowan and Oakman unwind with a quick fishing trip down the Brazos River outside McLane Stadium. Avid fisherman Keith Miller, Baylor's associate AD for compliance, had to call in a favor, borrowing a 22-foot bass boat large enough to fit both. Oakman still had his doubts and quipped as McGowan boarded: "You're three people by yourself!"

Oakman demands the driver's seat, while McGowan is happy to grab a rod and cast out into the Brazos. Nothing was biting on this Wednesday afternoon, but Oakman still considered the hourlong excursion a success. "I got my tan on," he said.

4. More muscle, more McGowan

After an early-morning team yoga session, McGowan loaded up a plate of scrambled eggs, sausage patties and potatoes at the campus dining hall. What he does with that fuel is carefully controlled by Baylor's strength and conditioning staff.

Strength coach Kaz Kazadi calls it a Catch-22: McGowan has the most muscle mass on the team, but when he lifts weights, he gains weight. So Baylor coaches issued a decree this spring: No lifting. McGowan stuck to cardio, building up his aerobic base and confidence for the 15 to 20 snaps a game he'll play in the Bears' high-speed offense.

He got back in the weight room this summer and will keep lifting during the season. After watching McGowan squat 455 pounds three times during a recent morning working, Kazadi was hardly impressed.

"That's nothing to him," Kazadi said. "That's just 65 or 70 percent of his work."

5. Oakman's abs are outlawed

Oakman was a victim of the NCAA's latest crackdown on swagger.

You've seen the Oakman memes this offseason. Well, starting this fall, he'll no longer get to roll up his jersey or wear his beloved "overbuilt" cage facemasks due to new regulations. He'd appreciate an explanation.

"You gotta ask the NCAA about that," he said.

Bennett hates that his star pupil has to hide his hard-earned, tattoo-covered abs.

"Who are him and the guy from Ohio State [Ezekiel Elliott] offending? Because they both look damn good," Bennett said.

How will Oakman rebuild his brand? He's bringing back his green-dyed mohawk when the season arrives, but that's all he'll reveal for now.

"I probably just gotta act a fool and make more plays, ya know?" he said. "I just gotta show out and be more outstanding."

6. McGowan is from the future

McGowan squeezes in a 15-minute workout on the speed bag, hung in a storage room inside Baylor's weight room. He started these sessions several months ago for his hand-eye coordination. "I have fast hands now," McGowan says.

If you ask Kazadi, fans who've only seen McGowan's 18-yard TD catch against Michigan State have no clue what kind of talent he possesses inside that 400-pound frame.

"He's actually an extraordinary athlete," Kazadi said. "He really is. His only issue is, he's unique. And if you're unique, this a great place to be. Because Coach is going to find a way to play you."

Briles is convinced football players will look a lot more like McGowan in 20 years. That's why "2035" is one of the many nicknames Briles has bestowed upon him. "Everything we do with him is an experiment," the coach said, "because you've got no model to go by."

Another Briles nickname: Capital Q. "There's not much lowercase to him. Better hit that shift key."

7. Oakman's big goals getting bigger

As Biggie blasts the speakers, Oakman busts through a 6 a.m. workout inside Baylor's practice facility. He prefers racing the receivers and defensive backs during conditioning.

The respect he commands on this team is easily witnessed during workouts and weight room sessions. Players gravitate toward Oakman, and he knows it.

"They look up to me," he said. "I'm the most vocal. I try to be the most dominant."

He came back for his senior season because he knows how much better he can get. Bennett sees Jadeveon Clowney-type potential but also saw Oakman wear down at times late in games last season. As a result, Oakman has upped his efforts in the film room this summer.

"He'll tell me, 'Coach, if I can get that first step, I can destroy people,'" Bennett said.

Briles says he considers Oakman the face of the program. He has three goals for Oakman's upcoming campaign: Win the Big 12. Win the national title.

"And he certainly has a chance to be the No. 1 guy taken in the draft next year," Briles said. "That should be his goal."

8. They stack up with anyone

They're the terrifying epitome of "first off the bus" players, assuming either could fit inside one. There isn't a defensive player taller than Oakman in all of college football, nor a pass-catcher heavier than McGowan. Kazadi considers them among the top 1 percent -- not just of college football's athletes, but the general population.

"Nobody in the country is going to be ready for what we bring to the table," Oakman said.

These are the guys Briles wants leading the charge for a Big 12 three-peat and a spot in the College Football Playoff. His fantastic freaks can't wait to pave Baylor's path of destruction.

"I don't know if there's two better-looking guys in America," Briles said.