ATHENS, Ga. -- Rhett McGowan is proof that a recruiting ranking isn't required to make it in Southeastern Conference football.
Late in the third quarter of Georgia's 24-20 victory over Florida last week, Georgia's walk-on receiver took off into press coverage from Gators cornerback Marcus Roberson. McGowan quickly freed himself from Roberson, a top-50 national prospect in the 2011 signing class, and caught an 11-yard pass from quarterback Aaron Murray.
"When you go out there and face press coverage on both sides, I don't care if it's Rhett that I'm throwing to," Murray said. "We were practicing all last week on press moves, and he was probably the best one. I was really pumped up when I threw it to him, and he was wide open."
McGowan's catch was the first of the season, and his gain resulted in a first down at Florida's 37-yard line. The Bulldogs came up empty on the drive when Blair Walsh missed a field goal, but they went ahead early in the fourth quarter and earned just their fourth win over Florida in 22 years.
Georgia football coach Mark Richt spoke Wednesday about Tuesday's suspensions of tailbacks Isaiah Crowell, Carlton Thomas and Ken Malcome for reportedly failing drug tests. The three will miss Saturday's game against New Mexico State.
"We all know no one is perfect and that guys tend to use bad judgment at times," said Richt, who learned of the suspensions Monday night. "When they do, that's when we come in and help them out."
Richt was asked about the timing of the suspensions, which fall on a week between conference tests against Florida and Auburn.
"We do our business the way it should be done and with integrity," he said. "People who make comments who don't know probably shouldn't, quite frankly, because they don't know. I would be able to prove 100 percent that they're wrong, but I'm not going to spend the time doing that."
"It was an unbelievable opportunity," McGowan said, "and I was excited about the chance to go in. The best part was getting that win. It was the best feeling I've had since I've been here."
The 6-foot, 190-pound redshirt sophomore wasn't on the recruiting radar of SEC schools, and he actually thought playing basketball might be the better route in college. He averaged 22 points a game as a senior at Calhoun (Ga.) High School, but some Championship Subdivision football programs started showing interest.
McGowan said Furman was going to provide some financial assistance -- "It would still have been expensive to go to," he said -- but then he was contacted by Georgia.
"I didn't really go to any combines or anything like that," he said. "When Georgia offered me the chance to be a preferred walk-on, I knew that's what I wanted to do. Both of my sisters came here."
After serving on the scout team in 2009, McGowan made his first career catch a year ago in the waning moments of a 55-7 drubbing of Idaho State. His first reception would be nothing compared to his second, which took place last Saturday.
"He just has a knack for getting some separation," Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. "He's not a burner, but getting off a jam is at least half the battle when a guy is coming up and pressing you. He has had a knack of doing that all throughout his career here, so we felt comfortable enough to get him in the game and throw the ball to him."
Said McGowan: "I came here obviously to get that chance to play. I don't want to be satisfied just being on the team. My goal coming here was helping this team out on the field."
Following the game, McGowan appreciated getting a call from former Calhoun and former Georgia receiver Kris Durham, who has three catches for 30 yards in his rookie season with the Seattle Seahawks.
"We grew up together and went to the same babysitter since I was 2 years old, so we've been very close," McGowan said. "I've always looked up to Kris. He's always been like a big brother to me."
Odds and ends
The Bulldogs worked out for 90 minutes Wednesday, and Richt said redshirt sophomore Brandon Harton is "in the lead" for the starting tailback spot. ... Sophomore outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who tallied four sacks against the Gators, suffered a mild MCL sprain in the game but is expected to play this week.