SEFFNER, Fla. — Byron Cowart, the No. 1 college football recruit in the country, is not coming to Gainesville.
The 6-foot-3, 252-pound defensive end from Armwood High School in Seffner will be attending Auburn University to play football for coach Gus Malzahn and former UF head coach Will Muschamp.
"It was real close," Cowart said on deciding between Florida and Auburn. "At the end of the day, it was really, really close."
Although Cowart would not definitively say Muschamp was the overall deciding factor in his decision to leave his home state of Florida to join the Tigers, it was the hiring of Muschamp at Auburn that convinced Cowart to make an official visit to Auburn on Jan. 16.
It was after that visit when Cowart knew he wanted to play for coach Muschamp.
Cowart, who cut his official visit to Florida short on Jan. 23 after his mother was unexpectedly called into work, said he kept coming back to the Gators, but ultimately didn’t waver in his decision to attend Auburn.
Sean Callahan, Cowart’s head football coach at Armwood, said he hopes Cowart made his college decision with the right reasons in mind.
Callahan said Cowart is one of the brighter players he has coached, and he would like to see Cowart graduate from college regardless of the inevitable lure of the National Football League.
"Hopefully he chose the school for the right reasons, which is the school itself," Callahan said. "Not for a coach. Not for anything else. Because Auburn will always be there, Florida will always be there, but coaches come and go. I want to make sure he gets his degree and I want to make sure he’s happy."
But even though Cowart opted to spend his collegiate career at Auburn, UF coach Jim McElwain still managed to bring in talent along the defensive line in his inaugural class.
He received a boost when five-star defensive end CeCe Jefferson out of Glen St. Mary (Fla.) Baker County High announced he would be heading to Gainesville to play for McElwain and the Gators for his collegiate career.
Despite losing out on the top prospect, McElwain said he’s enthusiastic about the commits UF received, saying the class of 2015 features players who may end up surprising the Florida faithful.
"Well, we got some real long, lean (guys)," McElwain said.
"I think you guys are going to like some of these guys. They may be under the radar a little bit, and yet from an evaluation standpoint we felt they were great players. And guys that have a chance to really develop into being a force."
Follow Graham Hall on Twitter @Graham311