Union County’s Blake Gowder lives slap-dab in the middle of Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest. It’s a beautiful area surrounded by 4,000-foot mountain peaks and clear, swift-flowing streams. It’s known for its great hiking and camping and outdoor activities but not so much for football.
Then Gowder came along. Union County’s star wide receiver and linebacker accepted a scholarship offer from Vanderbilt University this past Sunday night. Best anybody can tell, that makes him the first Union County citizen to accept a full ride from a Division I football program in more than 30 years.
“It was definitely harder [to get noticed] just because of where I’m located,” Gowder told me this week. “But it’s all worth it to me. I’m glad to be one of the few that went to a big school in this town. Somebody told me I was only the second person who got a Division I scholarship from here. A few others have walked on.”
Gowder couldn’t say for certain who was the other guy. He said it was “somebody named Rogers” who went to Auburn in the 1970s and quit after one year.
“Hopefully I’ll be the first one to play all four years and graduate,” Gowder said with a laugh.
Considering the numbers he put up his senior season, it’s hard to imagine Gowder not getting noticed.
With a 152 yards receiving, 45 rushing and five touchdowns in his career finale against Banks County (he also had 12 tackles on defense), Gowder wrapped up his season with 70 catches for 1,192 yards and 18 total touchdowns (13 receiving, four rushing and one on a 55-yard interception return).
Still, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Gowder’s best offers at that point were from Air Force, South Alabama, Furman, Murray State, Georgia State and Samford.
But Gowder had long held out hope that Vanderbilt would offer. His visit for the Kentucky game this past weekend represented his fifth trip to Nashville, including three camps dating back to the summer before his junior year at Union County.
“The first time I went there I was pretty impressed and just kept getting to know the coaches better and the town and all that,” Gowder said. “I just really liked it. I decided a while ago that if they offered that’s where I’d go. I’d probably pick [Vanderbilt] over everywhere else even if I had other offers.”
There’s an added bonus, too.
“I’m a pretty big country music fan, so that’s good,” Gowder said with a laugh.