Football in high school was an afterthought to McDowell, and he'll certainly need time to adjust to the demands of SEC football. But after a five-year tenure in Major League Baseball's minor leagues, Alabama will be getting a mature, disciplined athlete with plenty of physical potential.
Known as "Scoop" since elementary school (a nickname given to him by his brother), McDowell stands 6-1, weighs 176 pounds and has been clocked at a legitimate 4.3 in the 40-yard dash.
Football fans know that such times are notoriously exaggerated. But as proof of the mark's accuracy, in 1998 McDowell was designated the Fastest Base Runner for the entire Giants organization.
McDowell played defensive back and receiver for Forest Hill High School in Jackson, Mississippi, but baseball was his principal game as a teenager. "The first thing my dad bought me when I was growing up was a baseball glove," McDowell told AsianWeek.com in an August, 2000 feature.
Impressed by his raw athletic ability and size, the Giants made McDowell their first round pick in the 1997 draft, the 29th player selected overall.
As recently as 2001 McDowell was rated the 13th-best prospect in the Giants' minor-league organization, but he found progress to "The Show" rough going. Playing mainly centerfield, McDowell struggled to hit with any consistency, moving up and down in the San Francisco farm system before finally settling in at the single-A level.
"Fans don't see the struggles of everyday, as athletes try to get to the next level," McDowell said in the same interview. "It is just plain a struggle."
Last season McDowell split time between the Frisco Rough Riders (AA) and Hagerstown Suns (A) of the South Atlantic League. Combined stats show 423 "at bats," 19 stolen bases and 25 RBI. His on-base percentage was .252, and McDowell hit .177 for the year.
Using his first-round signing bonus as financial cushion, McDowell decided he had better get started on his second sports career before it was too late. And the Tide is the beneficiary of the otherwise stellar athlete's uncharacteristically anemic hitting stroke.
Describing him as a "really great guy with a nice personality," Loren Foxx of the Hagerstown Suns says that Alabama is getting a diamond in the rough in McDowell.
Now 23 years old, McDowell will need to add some bulk in the weight room to play big-time football, but he hasn't lost a step. A person that saw him this morning at the Alabama football complex described him as "an impressive looking athlete, very well put together." And not surprisingly--given the endorsement from his minor league team--also "very well spoken."
Like Mike Machen (also a former pro baseball player but a pitcher), McDowell's baseball contract will pay for his college tuition, meaning neither athlete will have any effect on the Tide's scholarship numbers. With Alabama currently in the second year of NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions, convincing former pro athletes like McDowell and Machen to pay their own way and walk on to the football team will help the Tide weather the probation period.
McDowell's fiancée', a coed at Arizona State University, is scheduled to graduate this spring.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The decision will be McDowell's, but fans should not be surprised if he chooses to redshirt his first season, bulking up in the weight room while learning Bama's offensive schemes.