ATHENS, Ga. - Rhett McGowan is listed atop Georgia's depth chart at split end for Saturday's game against Florida, but there is an "or" referencing the possibility that Michael Bennett could start after missing nearly a month with a meniscus tear.
Given McGowan's lengthy journey to get to this point, he's not about to complain.
The 6-foot, 180-pound former football and basketball standout at Calhoun High grew up dreaming of suiting up for the Bulldogs, but Georgia did not offer him a scholarship in the winter of 2009. McGowan didn't dismiss his aspirations and enrolled at Georgia as a walk-on, and he competed on the scout team before working his way to being a needed offensive weapon against the Gators.
"It really is exciting," McGowan said this week. "When I came here, people might have thought I was dumb, but I wanted to come here and I wanted to play. After being here and going through the process, it's unbelievable that this is getting to happen. I expected this and I wanted this, and I'm very excited for this opportunity."
McGowan and fellow fifth-year senior Rantavious Wooten, the projected starting flanker this week, were not among Georgia's top seven in catches last season but have been in demand following injuries to others. Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are out for the season, and Chris Conley is out this week after suffering an ankle injury on the final play of the Oct. 19 loss at Vanderbilt.
In 30 career games for the Bulldogs, McGowan has 27 receptions for 316 yards and two touchdowns.
"Rhett has been a guy who has worked his way up and shown to be a consistent player," offensive coordinator Mike Bobo said. "He's shown the ability to get open versus the press, and he's one of our quicker guys in short area. He's really probably been our most productive guy this last week and a half of practice, and he's going to have to step up and play a big role in this game -- more than any role that he's probably ever played, and I think he's ready for the challenge."
And what a challenge.
Florida's biggest advantage on paper would be its cornerback tandem of Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson against Georgia's depleted receivers. Purifoy and Roberson are NFL first-round projections according to ESPN analyst Todd McShay, and Gators freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III has been one of the best first-year players in the Southeastern Conference.
The Gators rank third nationally in pass-efficiency defense and fifth in fewest passing yards allowed (172.4).
"We've got to keep playing and hopefully get some opportunities to make some plays," Bobo said. "Two years ago, those opportunities came on fourth down in very tight coverage. Last year, we had tight coverage on the third-down play Malcolm made. They don't give up a lot, but when you've got an opportunity to make a play, you've got to make it."
The Bulldogs did not have a completion longer than 17 yards at Vanderbilt, that being a screen from Aaron Murray to tailback J.J. Green. Both Bobo and head coach Mark Richt have stressed this week the need to take more shots down the field.
McGowan may not be that deep-threat option -- the longest of his seven catches this season was a 13-yarder against South Carolina -- but his consistency and experience will be of value. His first significant play for the Bulldogs occurred two years ago against Florida, when he made an 11-yard reception late in the third quarter of Georgia's 24-20 comeback victory.
"You've got walk-ons who come in and you don't know who they are at the beginning," Richt said. "A lot of times when you're a walk-on, you're a scout-teamer and your jersey number changes every week, so it's kind of hard to keep track of who's who. Rhett was a very good route runner and he had good hands. He had a little bit of toughness about him that separated him from the other guys, and the one thing that really helped was that he was good at getting off the jam. "
Said tight end Arthur Lynch: "Rhett was a guy who would have done extremely well at a I-AA school and probably broken a lot of records, but he wanted to play big-time football and gave it a shot. We've always known what he could do, because we've seen him make plays against guys like Sanders Commings and Brandon Boykin."
McGowan isn't the only former Calhoun receiver getting the opportunity to excel these days. Kris Durham, who was a Georgia senior in 2010, has 23 receptions for 266 yards and a touchdown the past five weeks for the Detroit Lions.
"We talk a lot, and I always text him after his games," McGowan said. "He had a huge game this past weekend and a big catch on the final drive, and I'm just excited for him. He's definitely making the most of his career right now."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.