ATHENS, Ga. (WRCB) -- Just one mention of Rhett McGowan's name is enough to bring a wide smile across Tavarres King's face.
The two University of Georgia receivers and roommates have grown close over the past three years despite taking different paths to Athens.
"Rhett McGowan is the man," King said after last Saturday's 48-3 win over Vanderbilt. "He's my roommate. My best friend. He's just a team guy."
McGowan had no choice but to be that kind of guy when he arrived on campus in 2009.
The former Calhoun High basketball and football standout always had plans of being a college athlete, but he figured the opportunity would come in the form of a basketball scholarship from a smaller school.
But Georgia head coach Mark Richt invited McGowan between the hedges as an invited walk-on, which proved to be an offer he couldn't refuse.
But it also tested his dedication to the game.
"It's a slow start as a walk-on. You have to work to earn everybody's trust, and that's understandable," McGowan said. "You have to keep your mind set on your goals, and my goal wasn't to be a five-year scout team walk-on.
"I wanted to come here and help this team win."
After two years of hard work, he's starting to do just that.
McGowan had seven catches last year, including his first career touchdown against Idaho State, and has proven to be a reliable outlet for quarterback Aaron Murray against the SEC's most physical defensive backs.
"He's a tremendous receiver," Murray said. "Rhett may be the best receiver on our team at getting off the press and getting inside leverage to make some great catches.
"All the guys on the team love him. When he gets out there, he just makes plays."
Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo have noticed the same talents in McGowan, and have developed similar confidence in his abilities.
BUT THE LAST 3 YEARS AT GEORGIA HAVEN'T BEEN ALL SMILES FOR THE FORMER CALHOUN HIGH STANDOUT... LIFE AS A WALK-ON SELDOM IS WHILE TEAMS TRY TO WEED OUT GUYS WHO CAN'T HANDLE THE COMMITMENT.
"Rhett is a guy that we have a comfort level with our receivers' rotation," Richt said. "It's not like we're going to wait for the third or fourth quarter to put him in the game. We'll put him in the game at any time."
Richt's actions during preseason camp spoke far louder than those words when he awarded McGowan a full athletic scholarship after two seasons of paying his own way as a walk-on.
"Being able to call my mom after that meeting was just unbelievable," McGowan said. "She's always been there for me. It's been a struggle paying to go to school here, so that was a blessing from coach Richt that I'm so thankful for."
King was nearly as moved as McGowan when he heard the news. He'd seen how much work his roommate had put into the journey.
"I was so excited for him. He just deserves it so much," King said. "He comes to work every day. He's a good kid and a tough kid. He earned it.
"I about shed a tear when they said he was getting a scholarship."
It's an opportunity McGowan isn't taking for granted.
He snagged his first two catches of the season for 26 yards in last week's win over Vandy, and nearly broke loose on a punt return before being tripped up after 19 yards.
"I'm going to have to go back and look at the film on that one. They said the turf monster got me, but I'm hoping someone's hand tripped me up," he joked.
He may have just ten career catches, but his role continues to grow as both a receiver and punt returner. McGowan vows to be ready whenever his number is called.
"Being on scholarship helps my mom financially, but it doesn't change the way that I play," McGowan said. "I still go out there and go as hard as I can. It's just a blessing to get on the field."
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