When Tyree St. Louis was 14 years old, he was abruptly introduced to the skill of Byron Cowart.
The two Tampa natives had found themselves in a park apart of a pick-up football game that pitted the future high school stars across from each other.
As a young offensive lineman, St. Louis was just there to give a gangly quarterback time to throw to whoever else had walked up to the park that day.
Instead, he had to deal with a pesky defensive lineman who was the same age only in number.
Even at 14, Cowart was a force to be reckoned with and St. Louis found himself on the losing end of the matchup more often than not. Cowart himself has to humbly admit that he won the line battle every time.
The games in the park became a regular occurrence and St. Louis got a take part in the early development of the current number one defensive end according to ESPN in his position, region and state and second overall in recruiting class.
A little over four years later, the two found themselves lining up across from each other again. Both were participants in the Under Armour All-American game and a week of practice brought with it memories of those afternoons in the park.
There was a slight difference though. Cowart said St. Louis was “faster, more mobile. Much much better.”
And St. Louis described Cowart as being even bigger and scarier. Which translates into nightmares for future offenses.
Cowart has yet to decided where he will be playing his college ball. He’ll announce that on National Signing Day. But he feels confident that wherever he goes, he’ll have a group ready to follow him.
“A guy was walking down Hollywood [Studios]”, Cowart recalled while at practice held in Disney World, “and he was like ‘Hey bro, wherever you commit, that’s where I’m going’. And that’s the impression I want to leave. I want people to say ‘Wow, Byron Cowart is a beast. Either I’m gonna get hit by him or I’m gonna play with him.’”
Having guys follow him wouldn’t be new. Cowart is a natural leader, always pulling players aside after each play to congratulate or help, continually going to coaches for advice and helping to dispense it to others as needed.
His confidence at followers and his ability as a leader aren’t cocky attributes. They come across as just a great assurance of who he is, what he’s capable of and how much others look to him in order to emulate the confident air he possess.
This wasn’t always the easiest way to play football for Cowart.
“As a sophomore,” Cowart explains, “I didn’t want to take that leader roll, but now it’s just natural. I talk smack; get my team hyped, and those guys just feed off of that.”
Wherever he goes, and therefore brings others along with him, will be decided with one very important factor in mind; his mother.
“The biggest thing is my mother, she wants to get a feel for [Florida’s] Coach Mac and see who is this guy. And she wants to meet [Florida defensive coordinator] Coach Collins. But she was so tied in with Coach Lawing and then she was really hurt when Coach Muschamp got fired. But everything worked out and she likes Auburn too. But the biggest thing for Florida is for her to be able to talk to Coach Mac and Coach Collins.”
Growing up in a household that consisted of just Cowart and his mom, brought the two an unbreakable connection. She in fact moved them to Florida years ago to give Byron a better chance at a football career. The move, the opportunities, the support, the drives to games and jersey’s washed all pale in comparison to the most important lesson she could ever teach her son though.
“My drive mostly just came from my mom”, Cowart explains. “Seeing how she worked and she always finds a way. And that’s what I try to tell the other defensive lineman. Don’t stop at the point of contact; find a way.”
Cowart showcased this lesson on the first day of Under-Armour practice.
In one of the few drills in which he seemed to be beaten, Cowart kept driving, running his feet and pushing around. Finally he broke free and was able to get around his guy to the pocket. As he did, the crowd of media standing five feet away could hear him screaming, “I find a way! I’m gonna always find a way!”
The blessing of this lesson will return to her in fold if all goes as planed. Byron has a list of goals for his life. Near the top; provide for his mother. And the ultimate dream of course, will be to do that through the sport, which she sacrificed all in order for him to have the best chance at.
That best chance will most likely come at one of three schools; Florida, Auburn or Florida State. The relationships there with his mother will play a factor but coaching changes will not according to Byron. His primary recruiter is Brad Lawing, who has a chance to be out of a job at Florida as Jim McElwain continues to build his own staff. But Cowart assures Gator fans that Lawing’s job status won’t sway his decision.
“[Florida] can’t go back anymore. I mean they didn’t move when Muschamp left so it’s a business. Coaches come and go.”
Gator fans can take heart in a few things though.
Cowart has long been connected to Florida through fandom and friends. He considers Dante Fowler Jr. a mentor and close friend. He continually looks to Fowler for advice and support and through that comes those ties to Fowler’s university; a university he choose after a high profile recruitment that Cowart is now mirroring.
Cowart considers himself a BUCK linebacker, able to move from side to side on the fly and without the need for a coach to point it out. He can play standing up or with a hand on the ground. And since that is the way Fowler has played the past three years in The Swamp, Cowart says he has begun to see exactly how he can fit in there as well.
And then there’s Chuckie. The de facto mascot of the Gators defense has made his way from his original owner in Dominique Easley over to Dante Fowler and then become a symbol for the entire squad. Well, the psycho squad to be exact. That’s what they call themselves now, under their new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins.
When Byron Cowart walked into registration for the Under-Armour week, he was wearing FSU shorts…and carrying a Chuckie doll.
Cowart explained it as wanting to keep everyone happy, and even threw in a Nole chomp and laugh as he said it. But as the week progressed, Chuckie stuck around and so did his persona. Byron was in on every play, either being physical on the line or in a teammates ear while standing to the side. He credits that to his mindset, and credits his mindset to certain terrifying red-headed doll.
“I came out here saying ‘Byron we’re gonna have this Chuckie mindset, relentless, going hard every play, try to kill whoever has the ball. Just keep going, keep going, keep going.”
While measuring his options, one school will stand out as having that same mindset, and that same doll. While two Chuckie’s in the locker room may cause some to shudder (linebacker Michael Taylor has admitted before Chuckie gives him the creeps and linebacker Alex McCallister says he doesn’t like being in the same room as him), having multiple Chuckie’s on the field would continue to build a unit that prides itself on giving quarterbacks nightmares.
For Gator fans, only time will tell if their future will be more of a dream or a nightmare; playing with Cowart or against him. On February 5th though, Chuckie will find his new home, a whole slew of recruits choosing to play with Cowart will find theirs and Tyree St. Louis will begin preparing for the next time he has to face Byron Cowart.