Reconstructive knee surgery can be a career-defining procedure for many athletes. But unlike some who are are never the same after such a surgery, ’Nole linebacker Sam Cowart came back to have the best year of his Seminole career and one of the greatest LB campaigns in program history.
After heading west to Tallahassee from Jacksonville in 1993, Cowart contributed immediately to the Seminoles’ national title run. His tackles more than doubled in 1994, and then in 1995, he led the team with 115 tackles, including a career-high three sacks at Florida. Everything seemed in place for a breakout 1996, but then Cowart blew out his knee during an Orange Bowl win over Notre Dame to wrap the ’95 season.
After surgery, Cowart missed the entirety of 1996 while navigating the long road back. He changed his number from 56 to 1, which was fitting, since he wasn’t the same player when he finally did return. He was even better.
Cowart resumed his role as the Seminoles’ leading tackler, with 116, and set a Florida State record by recovering or returning a trio of fumbles for touchdowns. He led FSU to its biggest win ever over Miami, a 47-0 beatdown, along with a 38-0 shutout of a then-ranked Georgia Tech squad.
Cowart earned consensus All-America honors, as he was named a first-teamer by the AP, The Sporting News, the Football Writers Association of America, the American Football Coaches Association, and Football News, which also named Cowart its Defensive Player of the Year. He was a first-team All-ACC selection as well. Duh.
The ACC also bestowed upon Cowart its Brian Piccolo Award for the Comeback Player of the Year, and he was a finalist for the Butkus and Bronko Nagurski Awards, too. He finished his FSU career with 338 career tackles, 15th all-time for the ’Noles.
In 2011, Cowart was inducted into the Florida State Hall of Fame. Some of his highlights are included below.