Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Today Cowart's Dream Day Draft Completes Comeback from Knee Injury

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Today Cowart's Dream Day Draft Completes Comeback from Knee Injury

Article excerpt

The day is here for Sam Cowart, a day he once thought might

never arrive, and because of that, he values it more than he

once imagined.

Today is the day that, on the first day of 1996, Cowart -- a

Jacksonville native who attended Mandarin High School -- thought

he might have lost forever.

Today is dream day.

Today is draft day, NFL Draft day.

Which is why Cowart has had to explain things to people lately.

He's finishing classes at Florida State University and is

scheduled to graduate early next month, so Tallahassee has been

the place for well-meaning well-wishers, and foreseers of

Cowart's future.

"People come up to me all the time lately, and ask me where I

think I'm going, and what do I hear," Cowart said this week as

he prepared for the draft, which is scheduled to begin in New

York today at noon. "They get all excited and all worked up and

say, `Hey, we hear late first round, or early second round.'

People don't understand.

"I tell folks, `Wherever I get drafted is going to be a

blessing.' "

Today is dream day for Cowart -- partly because he likely will

be a first- or second-round draft choice and therefore very

wealthy. Mostly, it is dream day because it will signal an

official end to a two-and-a-half-year ordeal, an ordeal that he

says left him changed, and that he says has made him very

appreciative to have a day such as today.

"Being in the position I was in -- that's the only word for it,

I'm blessed," he said.

Cowart, projected to be one of the first five linebackers

chosen today, didn't always feel blessed, and he certainly

didn't feel it while he was laying on the turf of Joe Robbie

Stadium, Jan. 1, 1996. That night, playing for the Seminoles

against Notre Dame, Cowart tore two ligaments in his left knee,

including the anterior cruciate.

A torn ACL, for many football players, means the end -- if not

the end of a career, the end of speed, acceleration and

aggressiveness the player had before the injury.

The injury kept Cowart -- who never before had sustained an

injury serious enough to cause him to miss games -- out the 1996

season, when he would have been a senior. He redshirted that

season and secured another season of eligibility, but mostly, he

rehabilitated.

"You have people say, `Guys don't come back from ACLs,' "

Cowart said. "People say, `The NFL don't mess with guys with

ACLs.' "

So, his goal became two-fold -- make it back in 1997, but also

make it back strong enough that the NFL would mess with him, ACL

and all.

"I didn't have any idea what rehab would be like," he said. "It

was much, much tougher than I thought. You see guys who get

hurt, but you never see the rehab."

What NFL scouts and coaches who saw Cowart last season saw was

a player who had returned -- on film and statistically -- to the

form he showed as a junior in 1995 when he led the Seminoles

with 115 tackles. …

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