Sometimes a change of scenery is all a person needs to turn things around.
After the highly touted, top-ranked recruit sputtered out just three games into his junior season at Auburn, spent a semester at Hillsborough Community College near his hometown of Seffner, Florida, and transferred north to Maryland, it seems Byron Cowart is back on track to becoming the defensive force many once thought he could be.
“I’m a better me when I’m somewhere I’m comfortable, you’re a better you when you’re somewhere you’re comfortable,” DJ Durkin said on National Signing Day when Cowart’s transfer was announced. “I know Byron, I know he’s going to be comfortable here. I think he’s going to excel here.”
If spring practice so far is any indication, then Durkin was right. Though the team wasn’t running a full-contact practice—there was no tackling Tuesday—all the players were in full pads and running plays at full speed, and at times, Cowart looked like the dominant player he was expected to be.
On one play, he hit Ellis McKennie with a nasty jab step to the left before swimming back to the right, all the while sending McKennie backwards with his lower arm. If it had been a real game, he would have eaten the quarterback as a late-afternoon snack. It was the kind of play that showed the potential he can unlock. But he has to want to do it.
After Tuesday’s practice, Cowart met with the media for the first time since joining the Terps. For a little more than five minutes he explained how he ended up in College Park, what led to it and how he’s doing now that he’s back to playing football.
“It’s so crazy just to know where I was mentally and how I lost myself when I was doubting myself,” Cowart said. “At one point I was like, ‘can I even do this anymore?’
“When you have everything, you take it for granted. It would be some days I was dreading practice,” he continued, “but now this is my sanctuary. I come, I don’t even think about what’s going on in the outside world. When I’m on the field, I’m just going to have fun. Like I said, I’ve got my confidence back. I’m feeling good.”
The turnaround wasn’t easy, but he said he’s got his head on straight now and is ready to make the most of this new opportunity. Before practice, Durkin called his new defensive lineman “tremendous,” praising the leadership role Cowart has taken on despite only arriving over the winter.
“He’s got a great way about him,” Durkin said. “He’s willing to help his teammates. He’s been good for both the defensive line as well as the offensive line. You see him at practice going hard and then grabbing a guy afterward and talking about the rep they just had and maybe something that would’ve helped. He’s kind of an old soul. He has experience to him and he certainly shows that and he’s been helpful.”
Knowledge was the one thing Cowart said he said he could bring to his new teammates, noting how some of them remind him of himself when he was younger. He’s also willing to help any of his teammates, even the offensive linemen he’s battling every day in practice.
“He’s just a big strong dude with great athleticism, a great head on his shoulders and a lot of upside,” senior center Brendan Moore said of Cowart, who, a few minutes later, would explain how offensive and defensive linemen should help teach each other.
Now that he’s got another opportunity to prove that his high school recruiting ranking was valid, there’s no dwelling on how his time at Auburn went. Heading into the season, he doesn’t have many specific, lofty expectations, just three key points.
“Ball hard, keep my head up and stay positive.”