Alexandria coach Frank Tucker had to find a way to keep star senior Justice Owens from playing virtually every snap. And those rare moments, coming to the sidelines to catch his breath, meant something vastly different to Owens than it does to most — if not all — others who shared the field with him on Friday nights.
Owens suffers from severe asthma, and on some of those infrequent trips to the sideline, he held his lifeline: his inhaler.
He said the ailment wasn’t something he dwelled on and it obviously is not something that stood in his way as he accounted for more than 2,000 all-purpose yards on offense and 60 tackles and four interceptions on defense.
All reasons he was one of 20 locals selected to the Alabama Sports Writers Association All-State team, which was released today.
“Honestly, I try to not think about it,” he said about his attitude toward his asthma when he’s on the field. “Once you get to the point it’s hard to breathe, it’s really hard to keep on going, but I just try to not think about it and keep on pushing myself.”
As a starter at tailback, defensive back and returning kickoffs, he was as vital to the Valley Cubs’ success as his inhaler was to him.
“It’s not like he was being soft or weak, he needed it to perform,” Tucker said. “He was running the ball 20-25 times a game and playing defense a majority of the time, so sometimes we tried to take him off special teams so that would be a play or two that he could get rest.”
However, when Owens had the ball, amazing things happened.
Carrying the ball 205 times, the tailback rushed for 1,502 yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging 7.33 yards per attempt.
“It was no secret that he was going to be a big part of our offense, so he was about to get that yardage when other teams knew he was going to be a big threat,” Tucker said. “But not only was he a good player, he made some of his best plays at the most important time of the game.”
Through the air, Owens outperformed the opposing secondary, which more times than not knew the pass was headed his way, catching 19 passes for 543 yards and six scores.
“I’ve always played different positions,” Owens said. “That’s why I was very good at catching and running the ball.”
Set to graduate in May, the two-way player has some interest to play at the next level from Jacksonville State, Tuskegee, Chattanooga and several other schools.
The physicality of the game did wear Owens down, having him sidelined from the Munford game late in the fourth quarter with concussion-like symptoms.
So after playing a vital role in helping the Valley Cubs get to overtime, Alton Davis’ number was called to punch in the winning overtime touchdown that started the season turnaround.
Owens played sparingly the next week, but in typical fashion, when he did get on the field he produced
“He was cleared to on Friday after not being able to practice the entire week,” Tucker said about the following week. “But, even though he was cleared, it was going to be limited because his health was more important than anything else. But the few plays he did get in were very crucial plays that benefitted us.”
One came on the first action he saw that night against Cleburne County. Lined up at wide receiver, Owens hauled in a 40-yard pass from quarterback Tanner Wells. On the very next snap, Alexandria scored what proved to be the decisive touchdown.
Then in the game’s closing stages, Owens got in again and thwarted any hopes for a Cleburne County comeback on a fourth-down pass to the end zone.
“The entire game I was on coach Tucker’s hip asking him if I could play,” Owens said. “He finally let me get maybe one play on offense and three plays on defense, and it just so happened I was in on that perfect play to get that interception.”
Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.