Armwood High School in Seffner, Fla., is where Byron Cowart earned his stars.
It is where Cowart would go on to be ranked as the top strong-side defensive end in the 2015 recruiting class by Scout and 247Sports. It is where he’d go on to be ranked as the top player across all positions by ESPN and Rivals.
Cowart amassed 185 career tackles and 29 sacks on the way to garnering Florida Class 6A Player of the Year honors. He’d played in a pair of state championships for the Hawks. He’d played in the Under Armour All-America Game.
Now Cowart is 22 years old, and having gone from five-star Auburn recruit to roundabout fifth-round NFL draft pick.
The New England Patriots traded up with the Minnesota Vikings to select Cowart at No. 159 overall on Saturday.
“It was just a sigh of relief,” Cowart told reporters on his introductory conference call. “My mother was excited. It’s just a little weight off my shoulders now because I’ve got another opportunity to live my dreams. It’s definitely a little bit of relief.”
Cowart’s stay at Auburn came to an end after 15 tackles and one forced fumble. He saw action in 26 games and started none before enrolling at Hillsborough Community College to be close to home in the fall of 2017.
Then Cowart signed on with Maryland.
And his time with the Terrapins would span one season.
But Cowart made it count. He started all 12 games he appeared in for Maryland while notching 38 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble and a pair of interceptions. An All-Big Ten honorable mention followed.
So did invitations to the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine. So did workouts with New England that ended in a phone call and a draft card.
“A lot of people have dreams and they’re not able to achieve them,” said Cowart, who posted a 5.16-second 40-yard dash, 30-inch vertical, 111-inch broad jump and 26 reps on the bench while in Indianapolis. “So, for this to be one of my dreams, and one of my highest dreams – I’m in an organization that I always wanted to be in, playing ‘Madden’ and being around it.”
Cowart checks in at 6-foot-3, 298 pounds and with arms that stretch nearly 34 inches. He checks in with the mold to fill out a Patriots depth chart led by Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler and cost-effective offseason signing Mike Pennel.
David Parry, Frank Herron and hybrid defensive end Ufomba Kamalu round out the interior after 2015 first-rounder Malcom Brown exited on a three-year, $15 million deal with the New Orleans Saints.
But New England’s trade-up for Cowart, which expended No. 162 and No. 239 overall, was player-driven.
“Played defensive end. He was a five-technique in their three-man front,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said of Cowart in his post-draft press conference. “They were really a 3-4 defense, so he a played a little bit more five-technique, but probably is a little bit more of a run player. I mean, this guy’s really thick when you see him. He’s well-built, really strong, plays powerful at the point of attack. Did some decent things at Auburn, did some decent things at Maryland, as well.”
New England will see whether the sum of those things adds up.
Cowart recorded four quarterback hits and 21 hurries with a run-stop rate of 7.2% during his campaign at Maryland, according to Pro Football Focus.
“They’ve just told me I have the ability to set the edge or go inside,” Cowart said. “So, they’re going to throw it at me, I believe, and give me the opportunity to show them where I need to be within the defense.”
The past becomes a footnote.
“If a player was highly thought of coming out of high school and was highly recruited, it’s in the background, it’s in the notes,” added Caserio. “And then ultimately, OK, you can think a player is highly thought of in college, then when he gets to the NFL, respectfully, none of that really matters. What’s going to matter is your performance when you’re actually here.”