Byron Cowart boasts an exceptional combination of size, speed and power, so naturally everyone's eager for him to pick his school on National Signing Day. Who will it be: Florida or Auburn?
The No. 1 prospect in the class of 2015, according to Rivals.com, has the ability to transform an entire recruiting class. It’s easy to see why. There aren’t many people who weigh 250 pounds, can run a 4.6 40-yard dash and hit as hard as Cowart. All eyes are on the defensive end out of Armwood (Fla.) High as recruiting nuts look for clues to figure out where he is headed.
But first, back to that Chucky doll. Why does Cowart carry it around?
"Me and Chucky have a great connection," Cowart told AL.com’s Wesley Sinor before the Under Armour All-America Game. "He's violent, I'm violent. He's a killer, I'm trying to kill whoever has the ball.”
Chucky was clearly an inspiration. In Under Armour practices Cowart seemed possessed, raising his game to match the superior level of competition. If he is willing to make that type of commitment in college, the sky is the limit for the 6-foot-4 edge rusher.
“He had an outstanding week of practice and had outstanding work habits,” Miami Central (Fla.) High coach Roland Smith told SI.com. “He was a great leader for our team. Every play that kid came hard. He didn’t waste a rep or anything. It all started with his preparation. If he can take that preparation he had that week of the Under Armour game with him to school, he can be a tremendous player.”
Smith coached defensive backs for Cowart’s Team Highlight in the All-America showcase, and his Rockets defeated Armwood 24-10 in the Florida Class 6A state championship on Dec. 13. Cowart may have been playing angry over having lost that title game, or maybe he just wanted to prove himself against the best players in the country. But he made the most of the chance to play one more time. Cowart earned MVP honors after recording four tackles and a sack. He also had a fumble recovery for a touchdown taken away after an official review.
“He’s one of a kind,” Smith said. “I haven’t seen a kid built like this young man in Dade County since I’ve been coaching. There have been kids as athletic as him but not as big as him at the same time.”
Cowart explained the week of the Under Armour game that he borrowed the idea to carry around the famous horror movie doll from former Florida defensive linemen Dominique Easley and Dante Fowler Jr. Easley carried the doll everywhere, and Fowler followed suit after Easley went down with a season-ending knee injury in September 2013.
So, if Cowart is already imitating Florida traditions, does that mean he is destined to pick the Gators? Florida has been in on Cowart from the get-go, and Armwood coach Sean Callahan’s son Kirk (who played under his father at Armwood) is on the Gators’ staff as the defensive backs coach.
There’s a good chance Cowart stays in state, but it’s more complicated than that. Auburn, the other primary finalist for his services, hired former Florida coach Will Muschamp to be its defensive coordinator in December. Don’t be surprised if that plays a role in Cowart’s final decision.
“Byron does a pretty good job of saying a lot, but not really revealing all that much,” SB Nation national recruiting analyst Bud Elliott told SI.com. “But one thing he did say recently was how the length of relationships matters to him. Obviously he’s had a really good relationship with Will Muschamp for a long time. I think that’s going to be the deciding factor, but this is tough to call.”
And then there’s the matter of Florida State. Cowart canceled his visit with the Seminoles last week and told ESPN.com his decision was “down to Auburn and Florida.” But that didn’t stop the Seminoles from making one more push. Florida State hired Brad Lawing as its defensive ends coach on Jan. 22. Naturally, Lawing’s previous gig was at Florida, where he was heavily involved in Cowart’s recruitment.
Common sense says Florida State is out of the running, but this is college football recruiting, where common sense is a fallacy and everyone is trying to read between the lines of 140-character tweets sent out by moody high schoolers.
There’s nothing dull about National Signing Day, especially with a player as coveted as Cowart at stake. The wait for his decision is almost over. With or without Chucky, he’ll be free to terrorize college backfields soon enough.