Canton’s McGowan excited for next chapter

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Blessed with superior athletic genes and an assortment of physical gifts, Canton’s Jack McGowan may have begun his football journey with some built-in advantages.

But it’s all of the stuff that’s within his control — the hours spent in the film room and the weight room, the passion for the sport and the desire to keep improving — that has propelled the Catholic Memorial senior to full-blown superstardom.

Jack McGowan of Canton signs his National Letter of Intent to play football at Harvard beginning next fall.

Jack McGowan of Canton signs his National Letter of Intent to play football at Harvard beginning next fall.

“He’s really intense,” CM head coach Dennis Golden said of McGowan, who is headed to Harvard to play for the Crimson next fall. “It’s obvious he has physical talent — he can run, he can catch, he can tackle. But it truly matters to him more than it does to most kids, and he’s willing to work extremely hard. So you couple that with the gifts that he has and that’s a great combination. Coaches dream about having a kid like that.”

A three-year starter and two-year captain for the Knights, McGowan improved steadily throughout his high school career and really put it all together this past fall in what was a senior season for the ages. A star on both sides of the ball, he was widely recognized as one of the state’s top linebackers and also racked up 10 touchdowns on offense as a wide receiver/tight end in leading CM to a 7-4 record and a spot in the Division 1 south playoffs.

Inside the Huddle Massachusetts (ITHMA) pegged him as the “best overall player in Massachusetts high school football,” and USA Today, a national publication, chose him as the 2016 Massachusetts Defensive Player of the Year.

“At 6’1” and 225 pounds, [McGowan] is a rock on defense and excels at both stopping the run and dropping into pass coverage,” wrote ITHMA in declaring him this year’s Mr. Football. “The Catholic Conference MVP regularly made big plays by scoring touchdowns, making interceptions, or blitzing the quarterback. He was a match-up nightmare on both offense and defense and led Catholic Memorial against a brutal schedule with a close loss to Xaverian in the playoffs.”

McGowan drew interest from a number of area colleges but ultimately concluded that Harvard was the best fit for him and verbally committed to the school in September. He recently made it official by signing his letter of intent at CM on National Signing Day on February 1.

An outstanding student and a National Honor Society member, McGowan said academics was his “number-one priority” when deciding on a college — just as it was when he chose Catholic Memorial — and an offer from Harvard, considered one of the top institutions of higher learning in the world, was just “too good to pass up,” he said.

Coach Golden believes it is an ideal fit for the mature and serious-minded McGowan, who he described as a dedicated student and a “first-class young man.”

“A bunch of schools were interested and then Harvard stepped forward and at that point you kind of jump at it,” said Golden. “They really emphasize people and what kind of person they want to recruit. It can’t be just a smart kid with ability; they want someone that has character.”

Of course, the strength and stability of the football program was also a consideration for McGowan, and Harvard’s track record under veteran coach Tim Murphy is unassailable, with nine Ivy League titles since 1997 and a combined record of 130-29 — tops among all Division 1 FCS schools during that span.

Last year’s Crimson squad finished 7-3, and Harvard returns a lot of depth and experience, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. But McGowan said the coaches were open and up front with him throughout the entire recruiting process.

“They said just come in, work hard like we know you will, and anything can happen,” he said.

McGowan was recruited as a linebacker, which happens to be his favorite position and the one that comes most natural to him.

“I’ve always played linebacker and I’ve always loved it,” he said, “because linebackers are usually the leaders on the defense and they get to do a little bit of everything, whether it’s playing in coverage or stopping the running back or rushing the passer.”

McGowan said he was lucky to have a great role model growing up in his dad, Brian, who coached him as a youth and was a standout player himself during his time at Canton High School, leading the Bulldogs to a Super Bowl appearance in 1987.

McGowan’s mother, Kelly, also went to Canton High and was a standout field hockey player. She went on to play for Northeastern University and later became the head coach of the Bentley University field hockey program, winning a national championship and national coach of the year honors in 2001.

Brian McGowan also played college football at Central Connecticut State University, and Jack, who is the oldest of three boys, said both of his parents were a great support system throughout the entire recruiting process.

“Both of them played sports in college, so they kind of knew the deal and knew how to work with coaches and the whole recruiting aspect,” he said. “They were both immensely helpful.”

While it is clear that he possesses natural talent, McGowan believes the key to his success as a football player has been his preparation, which includes hours of film study and practice before he steps onto the field each week. He has also worked hard at building up his speed, and while slightly shorter than the prototypical college linebacker, he believes he has the instincts and football IQ to succeed at the next level.

McGowan, however, is the furthest thing from boastful, and he attributes much of his success to his coaches, mentors, and his deep religious faith.

“He’s a wonderful kid,” said Coach Golden. “He is never boastful. Obviously he has had a lot of success, but he’s just as excited for his teammates when they do something well, and he loves being part of the team.”

“He is dedicated in the classroom, always seeking to do his best,” Golden added. “Jack is a trustworthy friend and young man. He is everything that we can ask a young man to be. We are lucky to have taught Jack in class and to have coached him on the fields and in the gym.”

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