NCF On The Trail: byron cowart

BEAVERTON, Ore. -- Pac-12 programs hold commitments from 13 prospects who participated in Nike's The Opening this week, including four quarterbacks who finished in the final Elite 11 quarterback ranking and two offensive linemen who were named to the Final Five on that side of the ball. Though the conference will undoubtedly finish with commitments from many more of the recruits in attendance, we take a look at how the 13 commitments fared over the four days.

When looking at the teams in most need of a strong season on the field, the Florida Gators are at the top of the list. After grabbing the momentum in the state following a 11-2 season in 2012, the Gators quickly lost that momentum with a 4-8 campaign last season.

On the recruiting front, the Gators have some of the nation's best early leans who will be looking to see what happens on the field in 2014.

Here are five questions the Gators face on the recruiting front headed into July.


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Notebook: IMG 7v7 Championship 

June, 23, 2014
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The IMG 7v7 National Championship held at IMG Academy over the weekend featured some of the top 7-on-7 teams from all over the country and even a few teams from Canada. The event, which included 12 prospects ranked in the top 50 of the ESPN 300, showcased some of the best talent you will find in a single tournament. Led by Alabama verbal commits Calvin Ridley and Shawn Burgess-Becker, the Florida Fire from South Florida defeated Tampa’s Unsigned Preps 20-18 in the championship game to take home the title.

Quarterbacks shine

There were several high-profile quarterbacks in attendance, and they lived up to the hype for the most part. Deondre Francois, who recently transferred to IMG Academy, made numerous impressive throws. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound signal-caller has a top three of Oregon, Auburn and Florida State and is planning to make his decision at the end of July.


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The 2015 edition of the ESPN 300 debuts today. Uncommitted defensive tackle Trenton Thompson tops the first batch of rankings. Here are 10 things to know about the initial 2015 ESPN 300:

[+] EnlargeTrenton Thompson
Gerry Hamilton/ESPNTrenton Thompson is the top-ranked player in the ESPN 300.
1. Top spot still up for grabs: While Thompson remains atop the rankings, there is no guarantee he stays there. The Opening, where linemen will compete in pads against each other, is right around the corner, and prospects like Martez Ivey, Josh Sweat and Byron Cowart have the opportunity make a push for the top spot. Defensive linemen have been ranked No. 1 by ESPN three of the past four years, and the 2015 group is trying to make it four out of five.

2. Defensive line dominates: Six of the top 10 2015 prospects and eight of the 16 five-star prospects are defensive linemen. There are 22 defensive linemen in the top 100 and 48 in the top 300. When looking for the states to find the top DL prospects, Georgia tops the list with eight, followed by Virginia with five and South Carolina and North Carolina with four each.

3. O Canada: Jumping into the ESPN 300 at No. 186 is Canadian defensive tackle prospect Neville Gallimore. The 6-foot-3, 280-pound stand-up defensive end projects as a defensive tackle and has offers from Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan State, Ohio State and others. He is the first prospect who is playing high school football in Canada at the time of his ranking to be listed in the ESPN 300. Michael O’Connor, No. 132 in the 2014 rankings, is from Canada but played his final two years of high school in the U.S.

4. Players off the board quickly: To date, 152 prospects in the ESPN 300 have committed. As expected, the SEC leads the way with 65 ESPN 300 prospects, led by Alabama’s 15. The SEC West has 40 of the pledges.

5. Sunshine statement: The state of Florida leads the way with 52 prospects in the ESPN 300, including six five-star prospects. Dade and Broward counties combine to claim 16 of the 52 players. This number further illustrates the continuing importance of the state to recruiting, as does the fact that 44 former Florida high school players were taken in the 2014 NFL draft.

6. Tidal wave: With 15 ESPN 300 prospects committed, Alabama currently has 52 ESPN 300-ranked players in the past three classes, following 19 in 2014 and 18 in 2013. Including ESPN 150 players in 2011 and 2012, the Crimson Tide have 76 prospects in the 300 and 150 combined in the past five years.

7. Peach State trending: There are 34 prospects from Georgia in the 2015 ESPN 300. That number is up from 27 in the final 2014 rankings and 30 in 2013. Only Florida and Texas (42 ESPN 300 players) have more prospects in the 2015 300. The strength of the state is on the lines, with 18 of the 34 being offensive and defensive linemen.

8. Familiar last names: Vanderbilt quarterback commit Kyle Shurmur is the son of Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. No. 1 quarterback and five-star QB Kyler Murray is the son of former Texas A&M quarterback Kevin Murray. No. 22 Shy Tuttle is the nephew of former Clemson standout and first-round NFL draft pick Perry Tuttle. No. 95 Kahlil McKenzie is the son of former Tennessee standout and current Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie.

9. California QBs: The state’s nine ranked signal-callers are by far the most from one state in the three years since the rankings were expanded to 300. In the 2013 class, the state of California had six QBs in the 300.

10. Remember the name: Quarterback Sam Darnold is the highest-ranked newcomer to the 300 at No. 89. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Darnold missed the majority of his junior season with a fractured foot and just began popping onto the national recruiting radar during the spring evaluation period. He has offers from Northwestern, Utah, Wake Forest and Duke, among others.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Five-star defensive end Byron Cowart is a a terror on the field. While his ability on the field is impressive in its own right, the way the No. 5 recruit in the ESPN 300 is attacking the recruiting process is equally impressive.


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Video: ESPN 300 rank motivates Cowart

April, 16, 2014
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After a recent rise into the top 10 overall, defensive end Byron Cowart joins ESPN's Matt Schick to discuss recruiting and the new ESPN 300.

ESPN 300: Top SEC targets 

April, 16, 2014
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With Wednesday’s release of the 2015 ESPN 300, here is a look at five top targets for the top conference in college football.


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Throughout this recruiting cycle, RecruitingNation will profile a number of ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- For most highly-rated defensive line prospects coming out of high school, the word "technique" is rarely used. Not because the prospects don’t want to learn, but because proper technique is something that is seldom taught or even required at the high school level. Top defensive line prospects generally rely on brute strength or superior speed to beat the offensive linemen they face. But for ESPN Junior 300 defensive end Byron Cowart, who is the No. 68-ranked prospect in the country, technique has been his sole focus during the offseason.


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Orlando/Miami NFTC awards 

March, 17, 2014
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Florida prospects had a big opportunity to shine this past weekend with a pair of NFTC events taking place in the state. The packed weekend kicked off on Saturday in the Orlando area with a talented group that included two top-10 ESPN Junior 300 prospects. The action moved south Sunday for the Miami NFTC, which featured a strong group of skilled prospects. There were many good performances throughout the weekend, and here are the Recruiting Nation NFTC Awards highlighting some the top and most notable performers.


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Orlando/Miami NFTC notebook 

March, 16, 2014
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The Florida leg of the Nike Football Training Camp series didn’t disappoint. Top prospects from all over the Sunshine State made their way to Orlando (Fla.) and Miami to take part in the ultra-competiive camp. An incredible 11 prospects from the Orlando NFTC were invited to The Opening, an elite camp and 7-on-7 tournament held in early July at the Nike Headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. Here’s a closer look at the top news from over the weekend.

Orlando NFTC/Elite 11


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Running back commit Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central) has a message for any Gators fans who might be worried about his visit to Texas today -- follow the lead of Florida head coach Will Muschamp.


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- ESPN Junior 300 defensive end Byron Cowart (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) named Florida his leader after the Gators held their annual Friday Night Lights camp.

The 6-foot-3, 248-pound athlete said he enjoyed spending time with other 2015 Florida targets CeCe Jefferson (Glen St. Mary, Fla./Baker Co.) and Sherrod Pittman (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast).


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BRADENTON, Fla. -- The IMG 7-on-7 Southeast Regional had many of the prominent athletes in the state of Florida on display over the weekend. In Bradenton on the campus of the IMG Academy, 14 teams from all around the state went head-to-head showing off their skills in the passing game on offense and defense.

Underclassmen stand out

With all the big-named rising senior participants spread out over the field, it was truly the underclassmen who stood out. Jacques Patrick (Orlando, Fla./Timber Creek), a prospect with more than 30 offers, was as advertised. Ryan Davis (St. Petersburg, Fla./Northeast) showed great quickness and agility, making opponents miss in cramped quarters on several occasions. Shawn Burgess-Becker (Coconut Creek, Fla./Monarch) displayed elite athleticism and consistent hands. Deondre Francois (Orlando, Fla./Olympia) was among the top quarterbacks. And Nate Craig (Dade City, Fla./Pasco) and Byron Cowart (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) captured some attention, though Craig is a 2016 prospect.


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