ESM EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: UCF cornerback prospect Tay Gowan speaks ahead of NFL Draft

The 2021 NFL Draft is just around the corner. This year there is a plethora of talented cornerbacks that could be drafted in the first two rounds. Tay Gowan is one underrated cornerback prospect that has been rising up draft boards with just a little more than a month left until the 2021 NFL Draft.

Tay Gowan is a 6-foot-2 cornerback out of UCF. He was a full-time starter in 2019 that opted out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Empire Sports Media was fortunate enough to speak with Tay Gowan on our podcast, Fireside Giants, hosted by myself, Anthony Rivardo, and my co-host, Alex Wilson. The link to watch the interview can be found here.

Q: What have you been doing this past year to stay in shape, get ready for the NFL, and what has been your preparation process?

So, with me opting out with my daughter being born early/prematurely, I focused on making sure my grades were good and getting my degree. I did a lot of training. I was not allowed on campus because I wasn’t in the COVID bubble anymore so I would train at my brother JK’s house which is like ten minutes from campus. He had a whole setup for me. He is actually starting a program called JK Elite Training. So he does a training program and he kept me in shape. We did some videos and stuff like that. Leading up to me coming down to Fort Lauderdale I would train with JK and just made sure I stayed in shape. And during that time period a lot of gyms were closed but I had to stay in shape so I had to be at his house a lot. I had to make sure the environment was safe so I could get back home to my daughter safely.

Q: One of the things you have that a lot of cornerbacks do not have is elite size. You’re six-foot-two and 185 pounds. What kind of advantages do you gain being a bigger cornerback?

Due to my size, I cover a lot of ground. If I do make a mistake at the line, because I am long and I have tremendous catch-up speed, my coach called it sneaky-speed but I don’t think it’s sneaky, I can cover ground, I can move my hips fluid. I don’t think guys at my size can do that how good I can do it. I have been down here elevating my game. I think the separation is me being able to move at my size and not being stiff. There is no stiffness in my game. I will show that April 1st.

Q: What do you project your forty-yard-dash time to be at your Pro Day?

I think I’m going to run a 4.29s or 4.30s flat. I tested down here at a 4.35s, it was my first time ever really running the forty. But me actually running the forty with the technique, I feel that April 1st that I’m going to have it down and adrenaline will be behind me, my angels will be behind me, I’m a big prayer and I think I’m going to shock a lot of people.

Q: This is the moment of your life. How important is this moment for you, who are you doing this for? What is the driving force behind the success you see in the future?

My driving force has always been my mother. I come from a small family. I dealt with a lot of trials and tribulations. For example, we’ve been homeless since I was in sixth grade. But recently I had my daughter so I think my daughter kind of jumped my mom a little bit. But those two are my driving forces. I’ve been playing football since I was five years old. I didn’t really get the opportunity to play when I was in high school, just due to moving around and stuff. So this moment means so much to me. I cry thinking about it. Like I could really do this for my family and set my family straight. And I could show the NFL that I am a ten-year guy, I’m a ten-year guy, straight up. I’m not going to come in here and bust, no doubt I’m going to stay and I’m going to work my ass off.

Q: In 2019, you were phenomenal at UCF. You allowed only 20 catches from 50 targets for 274 yards all season. Was there anything specific that you did in 2019 that helped you to have that breakout season?

I did a lot of praying with my guys like JK, Richie Grant. We did a lot of prayer. I’ve been praying all my life but I feel like I found God when I was in JUCO. Everyone finds God different. But I feel like that was my place to find God. I found God, I went into 2019 with God, and it showed.

Q: You have those driving forces, everything you’ve been through with your mom, your daughter. You have everything that it takes to be great because of everything you’ve been through. Going to JUCO. What did that mean in terms of making the transition from JUCO to 4-year college like UCF? How much did being at a JUCO school help your transition. How much did it give you that motivation and that confidence to be great?

It allowed me to grow as a player, tap into who I was and find myself. It allowed me to realize how badly I want to play football. A lot of people can go that JUCO route, but a lot of people can’t make it out of that JUCO route. So I feel like that was a driving force for me. Like I really do want this bad because I went down a road that most people won’t go or won’t even try.

Q: Half the battle is your mind. Do you see it that way? Do you think that mentality is 50% of the battle or even more or do you think that your physical traits will take you where you want to go?

No, I feel like you said it right on point. That mental aspect of the game is very important. I feel like I was being prepared for these kind of moments so the mental part is a big part of the game.

Q: Do you model your game after any cornerbacks in the NFL? Is there anyone you look at and say that’s who I want to be in the NFL?

I want to be myself. But I think Jalen Ramsey. I want to model my game after him. I feel like I am way faster than him and I have that body type to be that built and be that aggressive. So Jalen Ramsey would be my answer.

Q: Jalen Ramsey is one of the best man-coverage cornerbacks in the NFL. Is that how you see yourself? Do you think you fit better in a man-coverage scheme or would you be better playing in a zone-coverage scheme?

I’m a man-to-man corner. I want to follow your best receiver and I want to prove that I can do that. And zone is how I get most of my picks. So I love zone and I can do both. And I like to be in your face. I don’t really like to be in off-man, I want to be in your face. I like to use my length to my advantage. There are not too many reps where you will see me playing off, but I can do it. I want to let NFL teams know I can play off-man but I’d rather be in your face, disrupt your timing, and get my hands on the ball. Zone is fun for me because I’m going to get picks. Don’t put me in a zone or I’m gonna get picks.

Q: Let’s say you’re talking to an NFL scout and he asks, what are your three biggest strengths and what is your biggest weakness? Just to get an idea of how you see yourself as a player and where you need to grow.

I think my biggest weakness, looking at the 2019 film, I got sent on some blitzes. I feel like I could have bent the edge a little better or I could have came harder or my angle could have been better. I feel like I can be a corner blitzer, I want to add that to my game where I can sneak up and impact the backfield like that. I think one of my biggest strengths is being able to be a ballhawk. Like if you watch my JUCO film I had six picks. I’m catching all different kinds of picks in ways I don’t think most people can catch them. Then even my first game at FAU I did a toe-tap interception. I’m a ballhawk. When the ball is in the air, it’s mine.

Q: Let’s say you see Saquon Barkley coming around the edge. How confident are you against the run and coming up and tackling guys with thighs like tree trunks? How confident are you that you can come up and make a play on a guy like that? Do you feel like your technique is at a place where you can make a play like that at the NFL level?

I do feel I could tackle Saquon. I’m not ducking no smoke, I’m not ducking anybody. I only fear God so I’m not worried how big you are. I can say that, me being in the NFL, I will get better at tackling and I will get better with developing my body. I do not feel like tackling will be a problem. I want him to be more scared of me.

Q: Are you OK with working your way up through special teams and through the gauntlet and getting to a position and fighting for that opportunity, making your way up through the roster?

I just need an opportunity at the end of the day. Whether that’s special teams, whether that’s practice squad, whatever. I’m going to work my way up. I’m not going to be denied. So wherever they want to start me out at, I’m going to give the team my all. Because I feel like if you draft me and you believe in me and this is my new home, I’m going to do everything to make my new home a better place. I’m big on loyalty. So I’m going to be here for a minute and this is the team that belived in me. And I got an example for that. In my freshman year, I was supposed to get surgery as soon as I got there. I waited until my sixth game because I was getting first team looks, I was on the practice squad. So I pushed my surgery back to help the team. I’m not a selfish person at all.

Q: What separates you from other cornerbacks in this draft class? What would be your main selling point, why would a team want to draft you?

Because I’m going to shut a half side of the field down. Point blank period. I’m going to take all the stress of the coach. This side gonna be OK. I don’t know about the other side, but this side right here, it’s going to be OK. I promise you that.

Q: At the NFL level you’re going to be facing off against some incredible talent. Is there anything in your technique as a man-cover corner, things that you have to improve on? Or if they try to move you in the slot as you’re mirroring a number one receiver, is there anything in your game as a press corner that you think you can improve on? You’re going to face off against many different receivers, some are more physical, some are more agile. Anyone that you think might give you a harder time?

Well I think that part of it is going to be more about how much film I watch and how much I know what these type of guys are going to do. I don’t think any type of receiver is going to give me a problem like that. That’s just the confidence I have. Like I said, what they see on April 1st and to me first time getting on the field, it’s going to be two different people. So I feel like I’m just tapping into what I can really do. Because, mind you, my football career was really short so once I get my foot in the door and being able to train 24/7 and lock in how I know I can lock in, with no worries I don’t feel like anyone is going to give me a problem. But I’m not perfect. I will get caught wrong, but it’s going to be once in a blue moon.

Q: The draft is just over a month away. I’ve noticed and seen you shooting up draft charts. Pro Football Focus now has you as their number five cornerback in the class. Your name is being brought up more and more. How exciting is that, and how much confidence does that give you leading up to the NFL Draft.

Man it’s so exciting and it’s a blessing because I come from nothing. And I just come from hard work. I come from a place where nobody believed in me, nobody invested in me, nobody really thought I would be here and I just really bet on myself. I put everything on the line for myself. So it’s so exciting and I get so muhc motivation from my hometown, like ‘dang this man really beat all the odds against him.’ Even with the COVID situation. A lot of people, who would have though that I’d make that move for my family or who would’ve been selfish? It’s so exciting to answer your question. It’s so exciting.

Q: If there’s anything you want to tell an NFL team right now, what would it be?

I would want to let them know that when I came to UCF, I gave it my all. I didn’t start right away but I didn’t complain, I didn’t cry about it, even though I felt like I earned my position. An unfortunate situation happened and I stepped up. People that had been in that defense for a long time and knew everything, I stepped up right away. A lot of pressure was on me and I didn’t fold. A lot of people were worried that I wouldn’t step up into the role and I did and I saw the expectations. So I want to tell NFL teams, whether I’m a day one starter or later in the role starter, I’m going to step up and it’s going to be the best thing that happens to the team. Or one of the best things, I don’t want to make it all about me, but I’m gonna do my part.