Cowart, No. 1 in ESPN 300, commits to Auburn

SEFFNER, Fla. — In the end, there was no real drama over his choice. Defensive end Byron Cowart knew he would go to Auburn.

It was the rest of the world he kept in suspense. Although Cowart’s choosing the Tigers over Florida on Wednesday surprised some, the decision can be traced back to one important person: former Gators head coach Will Muschamp.

Although Cowart did not single out Muschamp as the deciding factor, the No. 1-ranked player on the ESPN 300 did say that the reason he ended up taking an official visit to Auburn was that Muschamp persuade him to once he signed on as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.

The 6-foot-4, 258-pound defensive end from Seffner (Fla.) Armwood said he made up his mind right after that visit on Jan. 16. Connect the dots, and it appears Muschamp played a much heavier role in the decision than Cowart wanted to say, delivering yet another blow to the Florida program Muschamp left behind.

“[The visit] put the icing on the cake,” Cowart said. “I was considering Auburn before, and it was a coincidence they got Coach Muschamp. I wasn’t going to take a visit. He helped them to get me to take a visit. After that, I was able to see everything for myself, and I’m like, ‘OK, so you guys were telling the truth.'”

[+] EnlargeByron Cowart

Tom Hauck for Student SportsDefensive end Byron Cowart chose the Auburn Tigers over the Florida Gators on Wednesday morning.

Cowart says Muschamp played “a little bit” of a role in his choice. He also relied on advice from former Florida defensive end Dante Fowler, who played under Muschamp.

“Dante was telling me to go with my heart,” Cowart said. “That’s it. You just go with your heart and relationships you have with certain guys, but you have to know it’s a business. That’s why I didn’t want to feed into the relationship too much because Muschamp can leave. But at the end of the day, my visit was really big and my mom being a part of that visit made it even better.”

His mom, Lacroria Wilson, said visiting Auburn felt like a “breath of fresh air.”

“I know Muschamp is a very nice, compassionate person,” Wilson said. “From the time I met him in Gainesville, I always felt sure of him. His spirit sits well with me. With Byron going to Auburn and him shadowing over Byron, I can sleep good at night.”

Cowart did take an unofficial visit to Florida to meet with new coach Jim McElwain the weekend after his Auburn trip, but he cut the visit short. He said the uncertainty surrounding the new Florida staff played a role in his decision because he did not know whom to trust.

The coach he developed the most trust with was Muschamp.

“It’s not their fault they’re new,” Cowart said of the Gators. “My dad is in prison, so I don’t trust males. It’s hard for me to trust them because my dad left my life. Losing coaches, coaches moving around, [former assistant] Brad Lawing — that hurt me a lot. He went to Florida State, and that was hard. … In the recruiting process, [coaches] tell you what you want to hear, and when you get there, everything switches. They knew it was just hard going with some guys I didn’t really know but I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

“They’re great guys, and I talked to coach Mac when I took my visit to Florida. I spent an hour with him before I left. I know he’s going to get that program going. Florida’s going to be on the rise. I knew in the back of my head I’m still going to have to see them in the playoffs because I know what’s to come.”

Cowart, who registered 11 sacks and 21 tackles for loss as a senior, dominated the Under Armour All-America Game in early January, earning MVP honors.

That performance showed what he has the potential to do in college.

“During the season, people were saying, ‘You didn’t show me you were the No. 1 player,'” Cowart said. “I was angry and I was upset. There are some things I’m still upset about I have to prove in college. My immediate thing is to be consistent. That’s why the All-America game, I was trying to be high-tempo, high-motor every day. I have a big chip on my shoulder. I have a boulder on my shoulder, so I’m ready to get after it.”

Cowart is the first player from Florida ranked as the No. 1 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 and the first No. 1 overall prospect Auburn has signed since ESPN began keeping player rankings in 2006.

Derek Tyson of contributed to this report.

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