FRISCO, Texas — When Maureen McGovern walks into Gerrity’s Supermarket or Schiel’s Market or Price Chopper these days, she gets a look from some of the workers.
“How are you?” one of the ladies will say. “We haven’t seen you in a while.”
Not too long ago, she would be at one of the grocery stores near the McGoverns’ home in Larksville, Pennsylvania, three or four times a week. One store had its sales on a Tuesday. Another had one Thursday. The other usually waited for the weekend.
“Weekly, we’d spend a few hundred dollars,” McGovern said of her grocery bill.
The McGoverns had three growing boys under the same roof. A.J., the oldest, was a center on the football team. The middle son, Tyler, 18 months younger, was a pitcher on the baseball team. They’re both about 6-foot-2, solid builds, and both are in the armed forces now. A.J. is in the Army in Oklahoma. Tyler lives outside Phoenix, in the Air Force.
Then there is the youngest, Connor, who is more than four years younger and is in his first couple of months on his new job as a Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman.
When he was a sophomore at Lake-Lehman High School in Northeast Pennsylvania, he was 5-foot-10, 200 pounds. By his junior year, he was 6-foot-5, 290 pounds. The Cowboys list him at 6-5, 308 pounds.
“I’m 6-2,” his father, Jim, said. “His brothers are 6-2, maybe 6-2 and change. His mom is 6-feet. Maybe the milkman was 6-7 or 6-8.”
When Connor was 11, the doctors examined him and mentioned to his parents that he could be 6-6, 6-7 because of the separation in the growth plates.
“I laughed,” Jim said.
Soon, they would be at the grocery store for steak or hamburger or bacon. Oh, did Connor love bacon. They tried to force-feed him some vegetables, but he would not eat chicken or seafood. Forget about butter. Eggs, too.
“I’m actually a very picky eater,” Connor said. “I’ve gotten over that now, but back in high school I didn’t touch like basically anything. Only meats. The stuff I liked, I ate a lot of.”
Like pizza. Especially the deep-fried Sicilian slices from nearby Back Mountain Bowl.
“Every Friday it was like church on Sunday, we had pizza,” Maureen said. “Where depended on where I was shopping or doing errands. One of my best friends had a pizza place. Jim and I and Connor, we’d get three large pies, one topping and 24 wings. It was like 30 bucks. This was like four years ago. That was our regular. Connor’d eat a whole pie and Jim and I got one pie. Oh, and he had the wings, too. I think a couple of pizza places went out of business when he went to Penn State.”
Before his senior year in high school, the McGoverns had to buy him a new bed, replacing the double with a queen only because a king would not fit in his room.
“It was [an] ankle’s worth over,” Jim said. “He had to sleep in the fetal position a bunch.”
Said Connor: “It took me a while to get used to my body. I was very awkward going into my junior year in high school. I didn’t know how to run or anything like that. I was so used to being shorter. Just wasn’t used to the length. I did get like knee pains, but that was just from growing.”
Growing up, he thought he would play lower-level college football. Maybe go to his father’s alma mater, Colgate. He was not much of a recruit even though he started at center as a ninth-grader, but then he got bigger.
Later, in his junior year, he put his first set of highlights on YouTube. Within a few hours, he had his first scholarship offer from North Carolina.
He chose Penn State with the idea of becoming an NFL offensive lineman. As a true freshman, he started nine games. As a sophomore, he started 13 games at center and moved back to right guard for 12 starts as a junior, although he did start one at center.
Before the draft, he never knew the Cowboys liked him as much as they did because they did not talk to him at the NFL scouting combine or have him visit The Star. He actually had a higher grade than the team’s second-round pick, Trysten Hill, so the organization felt fortunate to get him in the third round.
So far in the offseason, the Cowboys are using him at center and guard, but he will have to fight to earn the starting left-guard spot with Connor Williams and Xavier Su’a-Filo, who split the job last season, and Pro Bowl center Travis Frederick returning from an autoimmune disease.
McGovern doesn’t lack for confidence.
Jim remembers telling him he played a great game against Hanover, in his first start as a freshman after the starter suffered an injury.
“He says, ‘I should’ve been starting from Week 1, not Week 4,'” Jim remembered.
McGovern is deferential to his accomplished Dallas linemates. He watched them weekly while at Penn State and now can’t believe he gets to practice with them. But his goal is to start.
“I like to set the standards high, set my goals high,” Connor said. “The worst thing that happens is I get to learn from the veterans and get better. So it’s a win-win either way.”
When most rookie offensive linemen enter the NFL, they look like they need time in the weight room. The Cowboys’ second-round pick from a year ago, Williams, is a perfect example. He weighed what he called a “light 300” in 2018. He has added 15 pounds in the offseason.
McGovern, however, does not look out of place when compared to some of the more veteran offensive linemen.
“There is no question physically he looks like he belongs. He has got a really good body, long arms, big hands. He looks the part. But he will grow and develop as well,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “That typically happens with rookies when they get a chance to be involved with a program for 12 months out of the year, the lifting program they are on now, the one they carry up to training camp, the in-season program and then next year he will get into a rigorous offseason program from the start. All those guys will change their bodies. It doesn’t mean they will necessarily gain weight, but they will develop more of an NFL body as they go.”
McGovern recently moved into an apartment not far from The Star. He has learned how to cook some and his eating habits have improved. The Cowboys’ training table can provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for players if they want, but he will have to search for pizza that will be like close to home.
Once the rookies are done with their offseason training, McGovern will return to Larksville. He could have gone anywhere to work out, but opted to go back to his old high school.
“He’s able to get his sled work, tire work,” said Jim, who is the school district’s superintendent. “Crossfit training. We have a tremendous weight room.”
And there is the pizza, too.