The 2021 NFL Draft is loaded with big-name prospects from powerhouse programs, but teams are always looking for those under-the-radar players in the later rounds who can still make a big impact in the pros.
One such player in this year’s cornerback class? UCF’s Tay Gowan, who recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about making the transition from JUCO, why the UCF secondary has been so good as of late, and why an NFL team should take a chance on him in this year’s draft.
JM: You came to UCF in 2019 after a stint in JUCO. What was your JUCO experience like?
TG: My JUCO experience was an amazing one. I went to one of the toughest JUCO schools in the nation in Butler Community College. I wanted to play on the toughest JUCO team in the country and that’s why I chose to play in the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference.
Butler prepared me as a man. JUCO was amazing. Don’t get me wrong, it had its trials and tribulations. I went through my struggles and hardships. Everybody at JUCO does. But overall, I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.
JM: I love your outlook on it. When you went from JUCO to UCF, that’s D-I now. What was the biggest difference you had to adapt to?
TG: The overall speed of the game was different. D-I is just faster. JUCO wasn’t a slow pace, but D-I is faster. We played with a lot of speed at UCF. You have to catch up and play fast. I’m thankful for the demands of the program because it definitely made me catch on quicker. There was no time to get left behind.
JM: How do you look back on your time at UCF?
TG: My time at UCF was amazing. I’m so thankful for the time I spent with my brothers. We had an incredible bond. The games, the crowd, our overall fan base, UCF is just an amazing place. The overall experience was truly something. I wish I could do it all over again. Everything happens for a reason. I was meant to spend that time at UCF. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
JM: You talk about that bond that you had in the secondary. It’s easy to see on tape. When you start looking at position groups by school in this draft class, this UCF secondary really sticks out. You have yourself, Richie Grant, and Aaron Robinson. Tell me about that camaraderie that you found in the secondary.
TG: My 2019 season, our secondary had guys like Nevelle Clarke, Antwan Collier, Richie Grant, and Aaron Robinson. Those are the guys I played with. We had such a special bond. Those are some of the best players and people I’ve ever played with. That goes for both on and off the field.
Guys like Richie Grant would bring us to bible study in an attempt to bring us closer. That’s how we bonded off the field. We were a tight-knit group and it showed on the field. We really operated as one unit out there.
If you go back and look at the numbers during our 2019 season, we were one of the best secondaries in the country. The proof is in the numbers. Go look it up. We were top five in the nation in a bunch of categories.
That bond still means a lot to me. I’ll never forget those guys. We’re gonna be friends forever.
JM: That’s terrific to hear. It’s so easy to see on tape. You all played with a lot of chemistry. What’s your favorite part of playing the cornerback position?
TG: I love being a ball-hawk first and foremost. I love stepping up for my team. I feel like I can swing the momentum of a game at any given moment. There were instances where we were losing and I completely changed the momentum of the game with an interception.
I love that aspect of it. I want to get the ball back for my offense and swing the momentum in our favor.
JM: When I turn the tape on, I see a cornerback that thrives in press coverage. You’re tough and physical at the line of scrimmage.
TG: That’s what I live and die on. I’m a press-man cornerback. I wanna follow the best receiver around. That’s a big part of my game. I can line up right in front of the best receiver. I can completely eliminate that side of the field.
I love playing man coverage. That’s how I want to play the game. I want to show NFL teams that I can shut down one side of the field.
JM: I can see your affection for playing man coverage on tape. You’re a bigger cornerback. That’s another thing about your ability in press. You have great length.
TG: My length is my biggest advantage. If I’m in trail technique, I know I have the make-up speed and arm length to recover and record a PBU. I can still get my hands up and impact the catch point. My length is God-given. I thank God for that one (laughs). My length separates me from a lot of the other cornerbacks in this draft class. I’m a long player, and I move incredibly well at my height and weight.
JM: That’s a huge advantage. Some people think you may be a safety at the next level. What are your thoughts on that? Do you see yourself as an outside corner only?
TG: You can put me at safety, on the outside, or at the nickel even. Just have me on the field because I’m gonna show up and make plays. I’m gonna impact the game no matter where you play me.
JM: That’s the right way to look at it. You’ve spent the last few weeks meeting with teams virtually. How is that process going for you, and which teams have you met with so far?
TG: I’ve met with a lot of teams. I’ve met with the Eagles, Falcons, Titans, Jaguars, and Rams just to name a few. I have more meetings coming up. It’s still early enough in the process. I have a lot more calls coming up.
JM: There’s a lot of interest in you and it’s easy to see why. I’ve really appreciated your time today. In closing, what kind of impact is Tay Gowan going to make at the next level?
TG: Whichever team drafts me is getting a complete cornerback that’s going to work his butt off day in and day out. I’ll do anything to make the team better. I’m coming to work. This has been my lifelong dream. I’m not gonna stop now. I’m not satisfied with just getting drafted. I wanna come in and make an immediate impact.