TAMPA — Byron Cowart's future in football can be determined by one glance at him.
The 6-foot-4, 255-pound defensive end looks as if he could play Division I football tomorrow. With 51 tackles this season, 14 for loss, the Armwood junior is well on his way to making that a reality.
It's his reliance on that imposing physique, though, that coach Sean Callahan and his staff have been trying to correct since Cowart first walked through the doors at Armwood.
"Byron could be the full package, the big thing with him is maturation," Callahan said. "He's been a boy in a man's body for quite a while now."
When Callahan first met the defensive end more two years ago, he said he thought Cowart was a senior trying to transfer into Armwood. Cowart, in fact, was a ninth-grader.
As a freshman, Cowart played in eight games for the state champion Hawks and recovered a fumble in a win against King. The next year he had some big moments, too, but those were often followed by relative silence.
"He used to take downs off, we would call it. He wouldn't play every down," Callahan said. "He just wasn't full speed."
That's something Callahan and Cowart have worked to change. Callahan said he had to light a fire under his player, remind him he couldn't get by on his made-for-football build alone.
On Cowart's part, the junior now watches his sophomore film frequently. He admits he put a greater emphasis then on working out, getting strong and being big. Recently he has focused on really understanding the game and thinking about technique.
That change in attitude has worked wonders for Cowart and Armwood.
Cowart is a big part of an Armwood defense that allows fewer than six points per game and never gave up more than one touchdown in a game in the regular season.
Now that he has figured out the winning combination of brains and brawn, Cowart admits things come a little easier to him.
"I know what to do now because I've studied the game," Cowart said. "It's about executing, since now I know what to execute."
Execution will be key in the Hawks' second-round game against Jefferson, a team that put up 376 yards of offense against Armwood on Sept. 28 despite losing 28-9.
Cowart, who wasn't quite satisfied with his five tackles against the Dragons the first time around, anticipates having a better night tonight as the Hawks fight to stay alive.
And as always, heads will turn toward the junior who appears nearly college-ready. The improvements he has made have put him one step closer to that next level, Callahan said, and Cowart already gets stacks of mail from college programs.
"I think everybody (on) the planet has offered him," said Callahan, who admits he keeps Cowart focused by keeping some of the hype away from him.
"He'll be fine in time, but he doesn't need to know all that right now."