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‘Tampa Teaches You How to Be Cool Around Greatness’: Local Ties in the 2019 Senior Bowl

North defensive end Byron Cowart of Maryland (92) runs through blocking dummies during practice for Saturday's Senior Bowl NCAA college football game, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
North defensive end Byron Cowart of Maryland (92) runs through blocking dummies during practice for Saturday's Senior Bowl NCAA college football game, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Did you know that Florida as a state produces the most NCAA Division I football prospects in the country? That’s right. It’s not Texas. It’s not Georgia. It’s our home state. In this year’s Senior Bowl down in Mobile there were a total of 12 Florida boys braving the Alabama winter weather to take part in the all-star game and its practices.

As it turns out, there are two players from right here in Tampa showing out on the national stage and if you pay attention at all to area-high school football, you probably already know their names.

Defensive end Byron Cowart was ranked as the number one recruit in the nation by Rivals and ESPN coming out of Armwood High School outside of Tampa. He was the consensus top defensive prospect in the nation after playing on two state championship teams his junior and senior year. He earned a plethora of other awards along the way, like Florida Class 6A Player of the Year and the Tampa Bay Times Blue Chipper of the Year as a senior. Plus, the Senior Bowl isn’t even the first all-star game he’s been selected to play in, either. As a senior at Armwood, he was an Under Armour All-America game selection.

What’s more, Cowart’s athleticism didn’t stop at football. He lettered in both basketball and track in high school. Growing up, he started playing recreational football for the Lakeland Lumberjacks as a kid. Raised by a single mother, often working multiple jobs, he told 247sports that he gets his drive and work ethic from seeing how hard she worked to support them. After spending his early years in Lakeland, they moved to Georgia but then back to Tampa when Cowart was in eighth grade – just in time for him to start at Armwood as a freshman and go on to being the nation’s top prospect.

He initially chose Auburn from a sea of offers, putting him in the same signing class as current Buccaneer Carlton Davis. He would end up transferring out after his sophomore season and returned to Tampa, spending his junior year enrolled at Hillsborough Community College. The 6’4, 293-pound defensive lineman then spent his senior season at Maryland, where he started all 12 games for the Terps. He’s now out to make it at the next level, with a mentality that all stems from the time he spent in Florida.

“Just being in Tampa, there are a lot of great athletes in Tampa,” Cowart said. “It teaches you how to be cool around greatness and to compete. Everyone you run into is going to compete, whether it’s freshmen in high school and you’re a senior, everyone is going to compete.”

North wide receiver Jakobi Meyers of North Carolina State (11) carries the ball as North defensive back Amani Oruwariye of Penn State (21) defends during practice for Saturday's Senior Bowl college football game, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, in Mobile, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye was a three-year letterman who was named Team MVP as a senior at Gaither High School in Tampa. He earned first-team all-district honors after recording 47 tackles, four interceptions and nine pass breakups his senior season, which then earned him an invite to play in the Hillsborough County All-Star Game. Oruwariye was a stud on special teams, too, blocking four kicks in his senior season alone. Though, coming out of a state like Florida, he was a consensus three-star recruit and didn’t even crack the Top 100 prospects in the state. The offers, were of course, still there and he chose Penn State where he graduated in 2017 with a telecommunications degree before graduating in 2018 with a journalism degree.

“I think initially coming from Florida it kind of prepared me well for going to Penn State and competing with everyone,” Oruwariye said. “You know everyone is the best player on their high school team and then you get to college and you have similar talent. Florida definitely prepared me well. We got some talent out there and it’s just going to keep getting better.”

Born in St. Petersburg, his mother, Karen, is a 15-year Navy veteran and still lives in Tampa. That undoubtedly added to the success he’s seen and perseverance he’s shown that helped land him among the best of the best at the college level. It probably even helped him run with his college teammates like current Buccaneers Chris Godwin and Carl Nassib while at Penn State. Oruwariye said that he recognizes the talent that comes out of his home state and would try to help anyone on staff at Penn State who was recruiting Florida in any way he could.

Oruwariye had a good week in practice at the Senior Bowl and could potentially prove to be first-round talent, but probably later in the round. With the fifth pick, the Bucs would probably have to wait to see if he slides to the second round. His 6’1, 201-pound frame certainly helps his case as does his versatility. He showed comfortability playing both press and off coverage and would certainly be an asset at outside corner in his home city.

“I have God-gifted size, which you obviously can’t teach,” Oruwariye said of his strengths as a player. “Then I think my mentality has made a tremendous change from when I first started playing corner, from a confidence standpoint and just destroy your opponent, that type of mentality. It’s definitely gotten a lot better. Then just my playmaking ability – just go get the ball in the air.”

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