LEESBURG, Ga. — Florida offensive line signee Griffin McDowell is sitting on the back patio of his family’s home after putting in a grueling workout at his high school Monday afternoon.
He’s detailing the whirlwind recruiting process that ultimately led him to Florida — and caused plenty of stress along the way — when he’s asked who was the nicest coach he encountered along the way.
“Definitely not Coach Hevesy,” he says with a laugh, in reference to Florida offensive line coach John Hevesy.
And yet Hevesy’s blunt and direct approach ended up being a huge factor in McDowell’s decision to sign on with the Gators, de-committing from Mississippi State and withstanding a strong push from new Bulldogs coach Joe Moorhead and his staff, along with late interest from Louisville and Auburn.
Anyone who spent any time around the Gators’ practice field this spring surely heard Hevesy’s growl, as he made certain his linemen received his message at all times.
“That’s what the coaches should be like at a big SEC school. That’s how I always thought it would be like,” McDowell says.
McDowell was one of four offensive linemen the Gators signed in their 2018 recruiting class, along with early enrollees Chris Bleich and Noah Banks (a JUCO transfer) and 4-star tackle Richard Gouraige.
McDowell, a 3-star prospect listed at 6-foot-4 and now weighing more than 300 pounds, is set to play center for Florida after starting two years at left tackle for 2017 Georgia Class 6A state champion Lee County High School. He was a late-bloomer as far as the recruiting process went, but Florida coach Dan Mullen and Hevesy were the first SEC coaches to take notice of him while they were at Mississippi State.
They met at a camp at Mercer last June and the offer from the Bulldogs came soon thereafter. When Mullen, Hevesy and a number of other Mississippi State assistants made the move to Florida after last season, it took a couple of months for them to offer McDowell again.
Mississippi State tried to use the Gators’ delay as leverage in their recruiting push, but Mullen and Hevesy had made a strong impression on McDowell, who waited for the Florida offer to come while staying in contact with Hevesy throughout that stressful in-between period.
“[He was] nervous in the fact that he fell in love with Hevesy and Mullen and their program. We went over there several times, they invited us — we could come any time they had a game — and he just started building a relationship with them and a bond,” says Jamie McDowell, Griffin’s father. “And Hevesy is somebody you would probably never want to be friends with, but he’s somebody you would always want to listen to because he’s almost like a drill sergeant, but you know he’s got your back. And Griffin liked that.”
Adds Tami McDowell, Griffin’s mother: “He knew that Coach Hevesy cared about him. He said, ‘I know he’s going to ride me and it’s going to be hard and he’s going to scream at me and cuss at me, but I feel like he cares about me.'”
Hevesy made an immediate impression on McDowell during that first meeting at the Mercer camp last June.
“He told me straight up, I’m not going to use his exact words, it was, ‘Put that guy in the dirt,'” McDowell recalls.
Hevesy then immediately corrected McDowell’s technique, moved his hands, adjusted his elbows and thumbs and watched as it produced an instant improvement.
“He taught me more than I had been taught, at that camp,” McDowell says.
Hevesy also would teach him a little bit about the recruiting process along the way, too, even though the Florida coaches wouldn’t come back with their offer to McDowell until late January, nearly two months after being hired in Gainesville.
“I was just like, ‘I need some help. I need to know what to do,'” McDowell says. “Because he would tell me, ‘Don’t waste your time with this coach.’ He’d tell me to remember something whenever this coach was telling me something. A coach would tell me that he sees me starting my first year, and Coach Hevesy, he was the one who told me, he said, ‘These are salesmen. They’re trying to sell you their college to come to. I just want you to know that I don’t see you starting. I’m going to tell you straight up, you’re not going to start when you get here. I don’t ever really expect anyone to start when they first get here.'”
In the end, that straightforward approach resonated more with him, and Hevesy remained a sounding board to McDowell throughout the recruiting process.
Even though Florida had yet to offer the scholarship, Hevesy stopped by and visited McDowell before one of his games in December and later came back to watch him wrestle in January.
When Louisville came in late with a scholarship offer and was trying to get McDowell to visit, he was still trying to get to know the new staff at Mississippi State and all the while wondering if the Florida staff would come through with that offer. He would reach out to Hevesy for counsel.
“I would call him stressed out whenever the coaches started pushing me. I got another offer later by Louisville and they wanted me to take an official visit, and I kind of got anxious,” McDowell recalls. “… Coach Hevesy had told me to give him a call and I did and he was like, ‘You don’t have to get upset about it. This is great. You’re in a great situation. A lot of players want to be in that situation of being that stressed out about where to go.’ I was kind of like, ‘Well, am I going to get offered by y’all?’ He was like, ‘Between you and me it’s very possible — very, very possible.’ He was kind of like telling me like, ‘Yeah.'”
Florida finally came through with its scholarship offer a couple of weeks before National Signing Day and quickly landed McDowell’s commitment.
Despite the bond he had built with his future position coach through the recruiting process, though, McDowell knows as well as anyone that doesn’t mean Hevesy is going to soften his approach toward him at all. Not when it comes to coaching him into the player the Gators believe he can be.
While he was a left tackle in high school, McDowell says he’s been working at center on his own to get ready for fall camp. And when he and his family stopped by Hevesy’s office while in Gainesville, the coach put him on the spot.
“We were in his office and I asked him a question about snapping, and he said, ‘Get up. Snap for me.’ I was like, ‘Oh, crap. OK …,'” McDowell says, telling the story. “So I’m like, ‘Snapping, I can do this. I’ve snapped great.’ I go to snap and it rolls on the ground to him. He kind of looks at me and I look at him.”
McDowell’s mother laughs and shares Hevesy’s actual reaction, which won’t make it into this story.
“[He then said], ‘Do it again!’ So I did it and it was a good snap, but I didn’t step fast enough,” McDowell says.
“[Hevesy said], ‘You’ve got to snap it fast’ and he just like flung it. And Coach [Billy] Gonzales was walking in and he’s like, ‘Don’t break the window,'” Tami McDowell adds.
“He just flung it at my ankle,” McDowell says.
They all laugh. Yeah, he knows what he’s getting into at Florida. And he welcomes it.
The following are the Recruiting Rewind questions SEC Country asks each signee as a way of reflecting on the process:
Q: What advice would you give to a high school junior just starting to go through the recruiting process?
McDowell: “I’d tell him if it gets bad or gets tough, remember that a bunch of players would love to be going through this. What helped me also ease the stressfulness is pray to God, and he’ll help you. He’s got a plan for you. And also if it’s going great, stay humble. With the offers I’d get, I’d stay humble and I’d make the right decisions. I wouldn’t party or drink or smoke. It was work out, sleep, come home, eat a lot. That’s how I do it every day. That’s my daily routine is get up, eat, go to school, work out, come home, go to bed at a good time. That’s how I am. That’s how I want to be in college. I don’t want to be a guy who parties or anything. I’ve been given this opportunity, I’m going to take advantage of it and I hope that’s what they would do too.”
Q: Who was the nicest coach you dealt with during the recruiting process?
McDowell (full answer): “Definitely not Coach Hevesy,” he says with a laugh. “I’d have to say, there was a coach from South Alabama. He was friends with my O-line coach. I can’t remember his name;I’ve known so many names, but he was very nice to me. He understood I wouldn’t go to South Alabama with the other offers I had, but he still liked me as a player. He even said he’d like me to come and visit them so I could meet their players and kind of talk to their players. That was my first offer. And actually, he’s at Indiana now and I saw him the other day. He followed up with me and was very proud of everything I went through. He said he knows the journey through it was very tough and crazy, but he was very proud of me and was going to keep up with me. So he was a very nice coach.
“Coach [Garin] Justice was very nice too, FAU. He went to Arizona. He came around practices and came out and ate with us one night. He went to Arizona and he wanted me to come there too, [but] he understood I wasn’t going to go all the way to Arizona.”
Q: Who was the funniest coach?
McDowell: “Coach Hevesy, no doubt. Coach Hevesy. He’s that sense of humor that is kind of like mean and funny, very shocking. He tells it like it is.”
Q: What was the craziest or most unusual thing to happen on a recruiting visit?
McDowell: “It was on an unofficial visit when we were at Auburn and we were watching a game. Their eagle went flying around the stadium and hit the field goal post and fell to the ground. And all the Auburn fans were going crazy, and when he hit the field goal post it went dead silent.
Tami McDowell: “You’ve got one job. All you do is fly around the stadium and you run into [the] goalpost?”
McDowell: “When he hit it the feathers came off, and the bird person kind of ran out there. Their eagle just died. I’m here on an unofficial visit and their war eagle just died. They had the recruits sitting right behind the field goal post and we saw it all. I know a feather came flying.”
Q: In the end, what school was your runner-up?
McDowell: “Mississippi State. That was my second choice.”
Q: How did the Mississippi State coaches handle your decision to de-commit?
McDowell: “I believe I apologized to [offensive line coach Marcus Johnson]. He said, ‘I respect your decision. I went through the same thing.’ … He knows how it is. He said, ‘I would have made that decision too.’ So I got some closure from the whole decision thing from him. Coach Moorhead was a little more disappointed. I think Coach Johnson already had a feeling I was going to stick with Florida. Coach Moorhead was a little more upset. Like I said, I really like Coach Moorhead, I really like Coach Johnson. I could see how they were going to be as coaches and how they are as people too. They’re genuine, they’re nice, they’re straightforward just like Coach Mullen and them, but it was the longer relationship with Coach Mullen and Coach Hevesy that helped me most.”
Q: What school would have had a better chance if it had gotten involved earlier in the process?
McDowell: “Auburn. I really liked them. I met with their head coach too and the O-line coach that was there when I was there. He’s gone now. I think knowing Coach Mullen and Coach Hevesy, I think I still would have made the Florida choice. I landed where I wanted to go. Being a 3-star and being able to go to a school that I actually never knew I liked until I got it and knowing that was the choice I would have loved to make, it’s great. It felt right.”
Q: Lastly, if you had sway with the NCAA, what would you change about the way recruiting works?
McDowell: “I would probably change how many times a coach can text you and kind of be on you, because they can get on you bad. I think they should remember that we’re in school, we’re going through football season, we have other things going on. When you get an offer, they should remember to not be so on you is how I would put it. … I’ve gotten a phone call from a coach at 11:30. I’m dead asleep and my phone’s going off and I thought it was my alarm to get up that morning. So I woke up, and he even said, ‘I’m sorry if you were asleep.’ I was like, ‘Go ahead.’ I was out of it.”