As we make our way further into the top 25 players to ever suit up for Florida State football, we come across a name that many younger Seminoles may not immediately know— but definitely should. Linebacker Paul McGowan is the only player left on our list who was neither a consensus All-American, a Heisman Trophy winner, nor Warrick Dunn. Yet his lofty position at this place in our countdown of the greatest ’Noles ever is well deserved.
1984 saw McGowan recruited to FSU from Winter Park, Florida after the Seminoles were coming off an 8-4 season that saw them unranked in the final AP Poll. He’d leave Florida State on a much more promising trajectory than when he found it.
And it didn’t take long for him to make an impact. As a true freshman, McGowan helped the ’Noles to big road victories over Miami (a 38-3 stomping), and Arizona State (a 52-44 shootout), tying his season-high for tackles in each game. FSU finished the ’84 season ranked 17th.
But McGowan’s legend really began in 1985. In the season’s second game, he anchored a defense that won at Nebraska, 17-13. McGowan was no small part of that, contributing 14 tackles, one for loss, and an interception to seal the victory, which you can check out below.
McGowan went on to register 136 total tackles that year, the 15th most in a single Seminole campaign.
Accordingly, McGowan was recognized as a second-team sophomore All-American by Football News, as well as earning an honorable mention All-American nod from the AP. He was also a first-team All-South Independent honoree. Florida State finished 9-3 and 15th in the AP Poll.
FSU took a slight step back the following year, finishing 7-4-1 and unranked, but McGowan’s production hardly waned. He again garnered AP honorable mention All-American recognition, along with another first-team All-South Independent selection.
As if McGowan hadn’t proven enough, he authored true Seminole history in his senior year of 1987. For the third straight season, he led Florida State in tackles, and his 150 that year remain No. 7 in a single season at FSU. He tallied double-digit tackles in every game save one, which still saw the ’Noles beat UF in Gainesville. Predictably, McGowan captured his third consecutive first-team All-South Independent honors. He was also a first-team All-American according to the AP, The Sporting News, and Football News.
But beyond those accolades, McGowan also took home the Butkus Award, the prize bestowed annually to the nation’s top linebacker. In doing so, he became the first Seminole to win a major national individual award, beating defensive teammate Deion Sanders’ Thorpe Award win by a year. In his acceptance of the Butkus Award from Dick Butkus himself, McGowan famously referred to the honor as winning “The Heisman of the Bad Guys.”
What’s more, McGowan helped begin FSU’s dynastic run of 14 straight seasons finishing in the AP’s top 5, as the ’Noles wound up ’87 at 11-1 and ranked No. 2 after their first Fiesta Bowl triumph. His 446 career tackles remain third on the all-time FSU list, and his 32 tackles for loss are still tied for 15th.
McGowan was a ninth-round selection of the Minnesota Vikings in the 1988 NFL Draft, and he was inducted into the Florida State Hall of Fame in 1994.
Here’s some video of McGowan in action: