Bloomington, Ind. – A little less than a year ago, J.T. Owens was about ready to break down and give in.
Last fall, the 5-11, 175-pound running back/safety from Indianapolis' Lawrence North H.S. was getting plenty recruiting interest from schools around the state and the Midwest, and a college football scholarship seemed to be on the horizon. But in the first month of his senior prep season, that all changed.
In his team's fourth game against Center Grove, Owens tore the MCL in his right knee, sidelining him for the remainder of the regular season. He did return to the field for the postseason – he scored on a 75-yard run on his first play from scrimmage in the sectional opener – but his knee was still less than 100 percent.
As a result of the injury, the scholarship offers Owens had been hoping for never materialized, leaving him to question what his future would hold.
"It was so frustrating – I got to the point I just wanted to cry and quit," Owens said. "It was so depressing. It just breaks you down. It's probably the hardest thing I've ever endured."
Endure he did, spending long hours rehabbing the knee back to full strength. As a result of that work, he's overcome the sort of roadblock that might have ended the football careers of many.
Owens' college career is now just getting underway. After the injury he stayed in contact with IU assistant coach Billy Lynch, who let him know the Hoosiers were still interested in having him in a Hoosier uniform.
"Indiana said that if I came here, there are no favorites, and the best will play," Owens said. "(Lynch) told me they were interested, and I could earn my scholarship, and that they really wanted me to play for them."
He accepted that offer and opportunity to walk-on to Coach Terry Hoeppner's program, joining his best friend from high school, Will Patterson, as a newcomer on this year's squad.
Their presence on the Hoosiers' 2006 roster isn't the only trait Patterson and Owens share. Like Patterson, Owens played in IU's season-opening 39-20 win over Western Michigan, making them two of only five true freshmen to play in the opener.
While many thought Patterson would have a chance to compete for immediate playing time, Owens took many by surprise. But he impressed the coaching staff with his play on special teams during fall camp, eventually moving from the scout team to the No. 1 units.
"One week the coaches told me to keep it going, that I was being talked about in meetings," Owens said. "Next thing I know, I'm on a couple of first-team special teams units. I didn't know if that would translate into me being a starter, though, until the week of the game."
That it did. So less than 12 months after tearing his MCL, Owens was playing in his first college football game with his parents, his younger brother and his uncle in the stands watching.
"It was exciting – I was a little nervous, a little anxious, but excited," Owens said. "It felt a little weird because I didn't know how it was going to be, how fast it would be or how strong the guys would be. I just focused on what I needed to do, went out and worked hard."
It's been a rewarding change of fortunes for Owens, but one he's not completing shocked by.
"For the person I am, this is what I expect," Owens said. "I set my goals high, and I work hard to get there."
Now that he's worked his way onto the field, Owens has continued to raise the bar. The next task is to work his way onto the field in the secondary, where he's been playing safety.
"Every week I feel I have a new goal," Owens said. "Once I reach that goal, I'll set another and keep working until I reach it."
Owens Overcomes Obstacles
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