Gowland Hoping For Improvement This Fall

There are several positions that will be watched closely this fall when two-a-days open in early August, but one of the most important for the Tigers is going to be at fullback where starter Jake Slaughter must be replaced.

Auburn, Ala.--Every year is a learning experience for a first-year player and last season was different for walk-on fullback Stephen Gowland. A former standout tight end, Gowland made the move to the backfield last season and that provided a learning experience that he says will stick with him throughout his time at Auburn.

"It's completely different," Gowland says. "Parkview has a great program and they do a great job of preparing everybody, but the time is the biggest thing. It's a full-time job and then Coach Tubs (Tommy Tuberville) stresses academics so much, that's a full-time job as well. Just trying to balance that and live the college years because you meet so many people you don't know, making a new group of friends, makes the commitment tough. The speed of the game is 1000 times faster than high school."

Making the transition even tougher for Gowland was a knee injury suffered during fall practices. That kept him on the shelf for the last half of the season and during winter workouts. He finally got back on the field in the spring and performed well as Auburn looks to replace departed starter Jake Slaughter. Gowland says that while he wasn't full speed, he feels like he did a good job in his first spring at fullback.

"I was still struggling with it a little bit," Gowland says. "I don't like to use my knee or talk about my knee because technically it's fine, but I could tell some of my lateral movement was slowed down. It's still coming back to me. Coach Yox (Kevin Yoxall) is doing a great job of not stressing it too much. It got a little swollen, but it's nothing ice can't help."

Heading into fall practice the 242-pound Gowland is in a battle for playing time at the position with Michael McLaughlin, who is also coming off a knee injury, and fellow walk-ons Andrew Turman and Danny Perry. He says that having the chance to work for a starting job is all he could have hoped for when he chose the Tigers.

"That's another reason I wanted to look at Auburn so strong," Gowland says. "Coach (Greg) Knox was actually the first coach that told me I would have a chance to play fullback. I had lined up some in the backfield at Parkview and I looked at the depth chart. You've got Jake Slaughter there and he was going to be a senior my freshman year. I figured I wasn't going to be strong enough to play my freshman year anyway. I needed to redshirt and that did happen. Now I'm in my freshman year. I'm in a great position and I'm working hard to get my weight up.

"The blocking schemes between a fullback and tight end are completely different," he adds. "Last year I played a lot of tight end and for a fullback you're blocking in open space, which is completely different because of the footwork. I need to work on my feet and get my lateral movement back. Of course I want to start, that's why you play. Everybody wants to be on the field. You're not here just to sit around and watch the other guys after you've busted your butt all year. But I realize I've got some things I need to improve on to take advantage of this opportunity."

A two-year starter for powerhouse Parkview in Lilburn, Ga., Gowland was one of the few players that actually dressed out for the team as a freshman. He says that having the opportunity to play in a program of that magnitude helped him as he got older and became one of the leaders on the team.

"High school was some good days," Gowland says. "Of course I played at Parkview and my sophomore year was the first year I lettered. That team got all the way to number two in the nation. We had a bunch of seniors on that team that all played D1 ball. I didn't get too much playing time then, but I was a full-time starter my junior year and then had to go both ways as a senior."

A strong player as a senior, Gowland had the opportunity to be a scholarship player at several different schools around the country. Small schools such as Georgia Southern, where his sister attends, Florida Atlantic, Troy, Middle Tennessee and others expressed interest in the tight end, but Gowland says that in his mind he wanted something more and Auburn had everything he needed.

"Towards the beginning I was thinking I was definitely going to play at a big school," Gowland says. "Towards the middle of the year my coach wanted me to look at some of the smaller schools. Football is such a huge commitment. It's a full-time job. I just knew that if I was playing football then I was going to be somewhere I wanted to be and not just a place to play. I have friends that signed with some DII schools, not taking anything away from them, they're great football players and great guys, but I wouldn't be able to have that kind of commitment.

"We have six o'clock workouts every day and all the pounding you go through, I wanted to come to a place where the competition is the best and that's the SEC. Auburn is two hours away from my house. It's the perfect community. After my first couple of Auburn games I knew I really wanted to come here. Towards the end when it was smaller schools or walking on at Auburn it was kind of tough, but I wanted to be at a place where I wanted to be. So I'm here."

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