AUBURN, Ala. — It’s safe to say Rodney Garner isn’t a fan of recruiting services — especially with the way they projected Byron Cowart when he decided to join the Auburn football program.
On Tuesday, the veteran Auburn defensive line coach ripped into the notion that Cowart, who was rated the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2015 by ESPN, has been disappointing in his first two seasons with the Tigers. Garner said too much was expected of the former 5-star defensive end by media and fans.
“He came in with unrealistic expectations,” Garner said. “(The media) put more pressure on the kid than he could ever live up to. It’s a process. As he continues to get better, he will play. Just because your stars and ratings don’t match up, that’s on you.”
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While ESPN was the only outlet to rate Cowart as the No. 1 player in his recruiting class, the Florida native was a consensus top 10 prospect coming out of high school.
Cowart only had 7 tackles in each of his first two seasons at Auburn, and he hasn’t recorded a sack in his collegiate career. Garner chalked that up to a slower development process for Cowart.
“Some kids develop quicker than others,” Cowart said. “Some kids are late bloomers. That doesn’t make it right, wrong or indifferent. I came through an era where if kids started two years, they had a pretty good career. If they started three years, they had a great career.”
Cowart made a move from defensive end to defensive tackle this offseason, where he’s expected to earn more playing time. Coaches and teammates have spoken highly of Cowart’s progress this spring, and Garner echoed those praises Tuesday.
“I do think the decision to move him inside has helped him,” Garner said. “It’s more suited to his skill set, and I’ve been impressed with Byron. He’s bought into it. He’s embracing it, and he’s coming out there every day just trying to get better and not worrying about the expectations that were put on him unrealistically by the recruiting services.”
According to Garner, Cowart shouldn’t be judged according to how highly rated of a recruit he was coming out of high school. The defensive line coach said he focuses on the finished product in college.
“I care about production,” Garner said. “I don’t care if he got one star, a moon, a sun or any of that. Because I’m in a bottom-line business. We all need to recognize that stars have nothing to do with football.”
Garner said Cowart “did well” during Auburn’s first spring scrimmage last Saturday. Cowart and redshirt freshman Nick Coe, who plays Cowart’s old position of defensive end, were the top performers on Auburn’s second-team defensive line.
After limited snaps in his first two seasons at Auburn, Cowart now has a bigger impact on the field, and it’s noticed in the film room.
“I think he sees that he’s showing up more on video,” Garner said. “His presence is being felt a little bit better in there. I think his teammates see Byron like, ‘Wow, that’s who Byron is.’ I think every day, he’s getting better.”
At the moment, Garner likes the progress Cowart has made at his new position. And Garner made it clear that he’s not comparing that development to the top player label Cowart once had in high school.
“I’m still baffled how (recruiting services) can name one guy the No. 1 player in all of America,” Garner said. “So you watched every single player in all of America? I don’t believe that. But y’all sell it, you’re making money. That’s great.
“But don’t think that coaches buy into stars. That’s for fans and that’s for services. That’s for money. I’m buying into evaluations. Period. It’s about performance.”