SEFFNER — Armwood’s Byron Cowart is a force on the defensive line.
At 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, the five-star recruit — rated the No. 1 prospect in America by Rivals — possesses uncanny speed and strength.
Coming off a breakout junior season in which he totaled 13 sacks, 10 quarterback hurries and 72 tackles, 15 of which were for losses, to help Armwood reach the Class 6A title game, Cowart is expected to be a major factor as the Hawks chase another state championship.
“Byron is capable of taking the game over,” Armwood coach Sean Callahan said.
Cowart’s college offers include Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and just about every other major Division I college in the country. He said being rated so high as a prospect doesn’t change his role for Armwood this season.
“It just means I have to be a bigger leader and help my team,” he said. “We have guys that know their potential if they go to camps and stuff like that. The ranking is a blessing, but at the end of the day you have to strap up and play football. It’s a big target on my back that I want. It’ll distract offenses. They think the blitz is coming from my way but it’s coming the other way.”
Said Hawks linebacker Jordan Griffin: “Having Byron in front of me makes everything a lot easier. It allows me to sit back, read and react.
“Linebackers love that type of thing, so it’s always great to have someone like him in front of me.”
Noah Johnson returns at quarterback after having a breakout junior season in which he led the offense with 2,789 total yards and 32 touchdowns. Johnson threw for 1,980 yards with 18 touchdowns and was the team’s leading rusher with 809 yards and 14 TDs. Senior Caylon Holloway, who split carries with two other running backs last season, will be the featured back. Junior Trevor Laurent, the team’s leading receiver last season with 580 yards and five touchdowns, will be Johnson’s go-to target. Senior Sterling Hofrichter, the top-rated kicker in the state, led the Hawks in scoring last season with 98 points and sent 80 percent of kickoffs into the end zone.
As usual, Armwood will possess one of the best defenses in the state, headlined by consensus five-star recruit Byron Cowart, a defensive end who had 13 sacks last season along with 10 quarterback hurries. Joining Cowart on the defensive line will be senior Jeremy Ware, who had five sacks in 2013. Senior linebacker Jordan Griffin, whose 150 tackles led the team last season, is regarded as one of the top at his position in the state. Leading the secondary will be senior Aaron Covington, another Division I recruit, who had four interceptions last season.
Armwood reached the Class 6A state title game last season and returns nearly all of its major players.
“We return so many, we fully intend on playing in Orlando,” coach Sean Callahan said.
Before last season, Callahan expected this year’s group to be the team competing for a state title. Callahan said advancing to the title game last year only intensifies the dedication to claim the program’s third official state title.
Armwood won the county’s most competitive district in 2013 and enters the season ranked among the top 25 teams in the nation.
“We’ve created a monster here,” said Callahan, who has guided the program to two state titles and three state runner-up finishes. “We understand expectations will always be high.
♦ About The Hawks
Stadium: Lyle Flagg Field, 12000 U.S. 92, Seffner
Class-District: 6A-8 (with Blake, Chamberlain, Hillsborough, Jefferson, King, Leto, Lennard and Robinson)
Coach: Sean Callahan (195-102, 25th season)
Last season: 14-1
Aug. 29: Durant
Sept. 5: at Blake
Sept. 12: Hillsborough
Sept. 19: at Robinson
Sept. 26: Jefferson
Oct. 10: at Leto
Oct. 17: Lennard
Oct. 24: at King
Oct. 31: Chamberlain
Nov. 7: at Strawberry Crest