In the game of football, it is not often that someone who has amassed success playing one side of the ball is able to completely transition to the opposite side of the ball and garner the same success. Montclair State University senior defensive end Eric Cowan is one of the few that has begged to differ.
Coming out of Manchester Township High School, Cowan played tight end on offense and defensive end on defense. While performing well at both positions, Cowan had a deeper love for playing defensive end. As a senior, Cowan won MVP in the Phil Simms North vs. South all-star game and the Ocean vs. Monmouth County all-star game. After winning MVP in both games, Cowan’s confidence was riding high heading into Montclair State.
Despite his success on the defensive side of the ball, Cowan was recruited to play tight end at Montclair State by current Head Coach Mike Palazzo, who at the time said his decision came down to what best fits the team.
“It is harder to find guys who are tight ends than defensive linemen in terms of guys being strong and physical enough to block while also being athletic and agile enough to catch a football,” Palazzo said. “When I recruited Eric, I felt that the position was a hard one for me to find. It was a time when the guys we had already at the position really didn’t fit the prototype we were looking for, and Eric did.”
Even though Cowan did not envision playing tight end in college, he was willing to take on the role.
“I wanted to play defensive end coming into Montclair State,” Cowan said. “But at the time we needed another offensive guy, so I played that role.”
Not only did Cowan play the role of tight end, but he excelled at it. In the 2021 season, Cowan went on to lead the Red Hawks with 33 catches and 216 yards. He followed up that season with an even more impressive stat line with a team-leading 25 catches and 345 yards as well as posting a career high 167 receiving yards vs Salisbury University.
Despite Cowan’s success, the excitement he had playing tight end was not on par with playing defensive end. After the 2022 season, he reached out to Palazzo.
“Eric expressed to me that he was not having fun playing the position,” Pallazzo said. At the end of the day, football is hard and a grind, so it has to be fun and enjoyable for the players.”
Cowan described his decision to switch as more mental than physical.
“On defense, you do not have to think as much as you do on offense,” Cowan said. “On offense, I had to know different routes based on what the defense was doing. I was able to do it, but I’d rather just go out there and be a freak.”
Since the switch, Cowan’s play has been freakish to say the least. In six games, he has recorded 13 tackles with three tackles for a loss. His best outing came against Franklin Marshall when he recorded four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
While Cowan’s stellar play on the field has been a beacon of light for the Red Hawks, his character and role as a leader have contributed to the team’s success.
When asked how it is being around Cowan, Palazzo said it is like being around a Labrador retriever because his mood is always high and never seems down.
“Cowan is someone who is easy to coach and always wants to get better,” Palazzo said. “There are some guys who may be stubborn because they think they know more than they do, but Eric is not one of those guys. “He is someone who is going to have success at whatever he does in life because he is optimistic and willing to put the work in.”
This optimistic mentality is one that Cowan embraces and hopes his teammates feed off of when on the field.
“If someone messes up on the field and is upset, I’m the guy that goes up and talks to him, and then he goes out and does his thing,” Cowan said.
With a 3-3 record, Cowan was asked if he has any goals for the rest of the season. He had a short and sweet answer:
“Win next week.”
With this “freak” on defense, the Red Hawks are poised to do just that.