As a freshman, Antonio McDowell knew exactly what he wanted to do when it came to football. First, he wanted to play varsity football for the Warhorses. After that, he was hoping to play for Carson-Newman University.
McDowell accomplished his first goal later in his freshman year, and after three-plus seasons as a Warhorse, his second goal came to fruition. On Feb. 9 he signed to play for the Eagles.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said of playing for the Jefferson City, Tennessee college. “When I found out they were interested in me playing for them it was a huge relief.”
Football has been a part of McDowell’s life since he first learned to walk, he said. He’ll be the fourth member of his family to play the sport at the collegiate level. His father played at Mars Hill University. His brother David played for Troy University, and his brother Chris played for University of Kentucky.
McDowell, who missed his sophomore season because of a shoulder injury, played fullback and linebacker for the Warhorses during his high school career. He'll likely play the latter for the Eagles.
In his role as primarily a blocking fullback for the Warhorses, McDowell was tough to tackle when given the ball. Listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, he averaged nearly 5 yards per carry on 145 carries in his career. As a senior, he rushed for 499 yards, just 1 yard less than Owen’s leading rusher Kristian Michels.
McDowell recorded 143 tackles, mostly at the middle linebacker position, in his Warhorse career. His numbers, according to Owen football head coach Nathan Padgett, offer only a glimpse of who McDowell is as a football player. “What really stands out about him is his work ethic, commitment and leadership,” Padgett said.
Coming back from the shoulder injury his sophomore season - a season in which Padgett and his staff had high hopes for the player - McDowell returned with unquestionable commitment, the coach said.
“He worked so hard to get his strength back in his shoulder,” Padgett said. “Then he came back his junior and senior year and had really strong seasons for us.”
McDowell’s refusal to give up in the face of his injury was just one way he influenced teammates to give effort, Padgett said. “He’s been a leader for us on and off the field,” he said. “This past season he was a team captain. We’ve seen him grow so much as a leader.”
Carson-Newman will get a player in McDowell who is committed to do whatever it takes to make his team better, Padgett continued. McDowell will bring a physical presence to the roster too.
“He’s a big young man,” Padgett said. “I’m sure that’s something (Carson-Newman) has noticed since they’ve been looking at him.”
McDowell last week reflected on the effort it took him to realize his goal of playing college football.
“You have to be dedicated to follow your dreams,” he said. “You can’t give up if things don’t go your way. We all face adversity in our lives, and you can’t shut down. You just have to push through it.”
Carson-Newman plays in the South Atlantic Conference, which features Mars Hill and Lenoir-Rhyne universities. Last season the Eagles, led by head coach Mike Turner, finished 8-3 overall and 5-2 in the conference.