As five-star defensive end Byron Cowart gears up his final season of high school football, he often reflects on his freshman campaign for reference.
That year showed him how to handle the recruiting process and prepare for games at a championship level.
His Armwood Hawks won the Class 6A state title, though it was later stripped by the FHSAA for the use of ineligible players. The team, highlighted by current Florida running back Matt Jones, had 12 seniors sign with Division 1 programs.
“My freshman season,” Cowart said, “I feel like I was there and saw all that for a reason.”
He still remembers the on-field interviews following the title game, and listening to the seniors. They talked about the victory and what it meant to go out as champions.
But then they spoke of a freshman few knew about.
“Right after we won,” Cowart recalls, “Matt and (South Carolina signee) Cody Waldrop were surrounded by all these reporters and told them, ‘This guy Byron is someone to watch out for.’ They gave me exposure, so now I have to do it for my teammates.”
Cowart, who is ranked No. 1 nationally by Rivals, can go to any school in the country.
He plans to announce his decision in January at the Under Armour All-America Game on ESPN, but it’s not for the T.V. time.
“I’m not one of those guys who wants to commit and make it all about me,” Cowart said. “My favorite part about the recruiting process is when all of these college coaches come to our practices. I love it.
“They might be coming to see me, but all my teammates have an opportunity to get looked at, too. And that’s why I’m waiting to commit. It’s not about me.”
Florida was the early leader for Cowart, but Oregon is currently his favorite. The 6-foot-3, 257-pounder likes the Ducks’ affiliation with Nike and how they get players ready for the NFL.
“I just feel like I can’t go wrong there,” he said.
UF defensive line coach Brad Lawing has the Gators standing out, and Alabama rounds out his Top 3.
“When it all comes down to it, I know Florida, Oregon and Alabama are going to be in there at the end of my recruitment,” said Cowart, who is on track to enroll early. “But that’s a long ways away. Right now, I’m focused on my team.”
The Hawks were knocked out of the playoffs during Cowart’s sophomore season, and last year they lost to Miami Central in the title game.
Cowart is pushing for Armwood to get back to its 2011 form.
“I’ve been there, and I know what it takes to win a championship,” he said. “The biggest thing is taking it one step at a time and being fundamentally sound.
“We know where we want to be when December comes. We don’t really dwell on last season, we just remember what happened and feed off it. I’m hungry for another ring.”
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