Football: Leota, McGowan among six Northwestern players to enter transfer portal


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Kyric McGowan runs past an Ohio State defender. The senior wide receiver entered the NCAA Transfer Portal on Monday.

Drew Schott, Assistant Sports Editor


Junior running back Isaiah Bowser, sophomore defensive lineman Eku Leota, senior wide receiver Kyric McGowan, freshman defensive back Gunner Maldonado, sophomore linebacker Jeremiah McDonald and sophomore wide receiver Malik Washington have entered the NCAA Transfer Portal.

The players’ decisions come on the heels of NU’s selection to the Citrus Bowl against Auburn in Orlando on New Year’s Day. Each athlete will receive an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

McGowan — who has played some snaps at running back in addition to his usual role as a wide receiver — was a key cog in offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian’s scheme.

Over eight games, he has a career-high 366 receiving yards, 141 rushing yards and one touchdown. This season, he has increased his yards-per-catch by three yards to 10.8 and averages about seven touches per game.

McGowan enters the portal as a graduate transfer after playing four seasons in Evanston, including three as a starter.

Leota was one of the Cats’ biggest defensive playmakers this season. Used primarily as a pass rusher, he led NU with four sacks, racked up 5.5 tackles-for-loss and made 13 tackles.

The best game of his career came on Nov. 14 against Purdue, when he sacked Boilermakers quarterback Aidan O’Connell twice and forced a fumble in NU’s 27-20 win. He became the first Cats player to have two sacks and a forced fumble in a game since Ifeadi Odenigbo against Michigan State in October 2016.

Leota was expected to move into a starting role next season, and his potential departure is considered the most surprising of the six players who entered the portal.

Bowser took the Big Ten by storm as a freshman, rushing for 866 yards and six touchdowns. He had four games of more than 100 yards on the ground, including 165 yards and a touchdown against Iowa to help deliver NU a Big Ten West Division title.

But he would rush for just 434 yards over the next two seasons as dealt with injuries.

In 2019, he played in only five games and was never fully healthy. He started 2020 off strong, racking up 70 yards and two touchdowns — one on the ground and one through the air — in the season-opener against Maryland. However, Bowser was benched against the Badgers for fumbling on the goal line and rarely played at the end of the regular season and the Big Ten Championship Game — where he had one carry for one yard.

Despite wrapping up his junior season, Bowser enters the portal as a grad transfer after arriving in Evanston as an early enrollee in the winter of 2018.

Washington, who was regarded by the coaching staff as a potential breakout star this season, caught only 11 passes for 76 yards in two seasons. Serving as a backup to Riley Lees in the slot, the Georgia native did well. But, Washington has not played since the Cats’ win over the Badgers due to injury.

Maldonado saw action in only three games this season and posted one tackle. The Chandler, Az. native thanked NU on social media.

“Thank You Coach Fitzgerald and Coach MacPherson for believing in me and giving me an opportunity to be a part of an amazing program,” Maldonado wrote. “To all the coaches and staff, thank you for all of the love and support you’ve shown me.”

McDonald last suited up for the purple-and-white in 2019. A former three-star safety recruit, he chose the Cats over schools such as Navy, Ole Miss and Virginia.

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