It’s Defensive Ends Week at Testudo Times. Our summer football preview series has touched on quarterbacks, running backs, receivers and offensive line. Now we’re on the other side of the ball. Let’s talk about one of Maryland’s biggest X-factors this season.
Byron Cowart, No. 9
Weight: 270 lbs.
Year: RS junior
Hometown: Seffner, Florida
High school: Armwood
Cowart was a five-star prospect, but hasn’t panned out yet.
To call Cowart a blue-chip recruit sells him short. He was the No. 3 overall player in the Class of 2015, according to the 247Sports Composite. ESPN and Rivals had him at No. 1, and all four major recruiting sites (Scout and 247 being the others) had him as the nation’s top strong-side defensive end. He committed to Auburn on National Signing Day, choosing the Tigers over Florida, where DJ Durkin had been the defensive coordinator until January.
And then he just never got going. Cowart saw time in every game as a freshman, making six tackles. He played in 10 contests in 2016, recording six more tackles. While others in his recruiting class were blossoming, he was stuck in neutral. Cowart left Auburn three games into the 2017 season, explaining that he wanted to be closer to his ailing mother back home. He enrolled at Hillsborough Community College, but didn’t suit up for the rest of the year.
Maryland added him in December as a junior college recruit.
There wasn’t much interest in Cowart the second time around; Maryland was one of the few schools ever connected to him. Cowart had visited College Park as a recruit, and Durkin had been involved in recruiting him while at Florida. The commitment came on the early signing day in December.
Since Cowart was enrolled at Hillsborough, he was technically a JuCo recruit, which meant he counted toward Maryland’s class recruiting ranking. He had a high three-star rating on the Composite, which actually slotted him below Maryland’s other JuCo addition, offensive lineman TJ Bradley. But unlike his “classmates,” Cowart came to College Park with only two years of eligibility.
Cowart has shown signs of what he can be.
After enrolling over the winter, Cowart impressed in the spring. Here’s Jared on one play that stuck with him:
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.
When he spoke with the media after that practice, Cowart said he had his confidence back and that the football field had become his sanctuary after a period in which he would dread practice. Durkin has remarked several times that interacting with Cowart is completely different now than it was during the recruiting process, calling the 21-year-old an “old soul.”
Stories of players finding comfort after facing adversity are always a little heartwarming, but Maryland and its fans obviously hope this is a football redemption story too. The more Cowart can recover of the form that made him the most coveted defensive end in the country, the better for a defensive line that couldn’t cobble together a pass rush last year. A healthy Jesse Aniebonam will be the first step in the right direction, but a rejuvenated Cowart could make defensive end a position of strength.