Prep Football: West Rowan's Cowan to West Liberty

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 11, 2011

By Mike London
MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan senior Eric Cowan’s T-shirt tells the story of his life.
“What happens in Mount Ulla … goes down in history,” the shirt says.
Not exactly modest — but it’s accurate. West, as you’ve probably heard, has won 46 consecutive games and three straight 3A championships.
Cowan has had a hand — usually both hands and both feet — in many of those victories.
Especially as a senior, when the 5-foot-10, 170-pound defensive back was Rowan County Defensive Player of the Year, AP All-State and a MaxPreps All-American.
Cowan was a split-personality terror. Depending on the gameplan, he crushed running backs like a linebacker or covered man-to-man against top receivers.
Cowan’s next stop is Division II West Liberty University near Wheeling, West Virginia. It’s not a place he’d heard of back in August, but it’s a place that he could help immensely down the road.
“Eric could’ve been in the Shrine Bowl and could’ve been in the East-West All-Star Game,” West head coach Scott Young says matter-of-factly. “But you’ve got to remember, Eric played with some great teammates.”
On the all-star circuit, they take a maximum of two from any one school even when that nationally ranked school can make a good case for a half-dozen.
Cowan’s ungodly senior year will be remembered for a while. It had to be one of the best ever by a Rowan defensive back/return man. There weren’t many Fridays when Cowan didn’t do something to change the game.
His enormous season was a shock. He entered 2010 as a sure starter after creating eight turnovers as a junior, but no one was talking about him as All-America material.
“Eric came from out of the shadows and into to the forefront,” Young said poetically. “Special athlete. Fast, physical and smart.”
Cowan’s senior season included two touchdowns on punt returns, one TD on a pick-six, one playoff TD on a faked punt and one TD on a return of a free kick that followed a West safety.
He zoomed with one opening kickoff back to the 1-yard line, and, believe it or not, he had four more touchdowns negated by yellow flags.
Cowan still doesn’t seem all that impressed by what he accomplished, but he didn’t mind doing it.
“There was no pressure on me and no worries— I just went out and played football,” he said. “I was expected to make some plays, and I did make a few.”
Cowan likely would’ve found a football home earlier — probably on National Signing Day — if he’d had everything squared away academically.
His GPA was fine all along, but he had to wait on a qualifying standardized test score. Once that was taken care of, he was in demand.
Cowan visited Carson-Newman during the season and also had postseason visits to Brevard and Wingate.
Young credits Brian Messisco, a supporter of the West program, with opening the door to West Liberty and its coaching staff.
Once West Liberty had chance to see film of a tenacious West Rowan defense that recorded a school-record six shutouts, several Falcons were invited for a March visit. Head coach Roger Waialae was able to sign not only Cowan but 225-pound linebacker Quentin Sifford as well.
“I didn’t go up there for a tryout or anything like that because they’d already had a chance to watch film,” Cowan said. “The coaches showed us around, and the campus is nice. There’s 3,200 students so it’s not too small, but it’s not too big. The football field was turf. Nice.”
The weather was chilly, but that football field was sweet, sort of nestled back in the trees just like the West field where Cowan made a name for himself.
West Liberty has posted six straight winning seasons under Waialae, and the school has earned a reputation as an offensive machine in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
Cowan liked the recruiting pitch he heard from the coaching staff.
“They’ve had the best offense around for two years and haven’t been lacking there,” Cowan said. “They told me now they’re concentrating on recruiting defensive players, so they can take that next step.”
Cowan and Sifford are guys that can help them take that step. They’re winners.
“We’ve learned to take losing very hard, and no loss will ever sit well with us,” Cowan declared.
The Falcons could make a college impact early. Young said he won’t be shocked if Cowan starts right away.
Obviously, if there’s a negative regarding West Liberty, it’s the distance.
Cowan estimates the trip up Interstate 77 for Sifford and him will be seven hours — give or take.
“It is a long way off, but I’ll be getting a free education and being away from home is part of growing up,” Cowan said. “I’ll be reunited, so to speak, with Quentin, and that will help us both.”

A story on Sifford is upcoming.