June 3, 2014
AUBURN, Ala. – The term is often spat out, ridiculed as a joke. “Student-athlete,” so-called college football experts like to say, is a made-up description from another time. After all, that fits the popular narrative of the day.
And then there is LaDarius Owens.
Owens is headed toward his senior season as an Auburn defensive end. He started 12 games in last season’s run to the Southeastern Conference championship and the BCS Championship Game. Like most of his teammates, he hopes to get a chance to play in the NFL. That’s Owens the athlete.
In May, Owens earned an Auburn degree in communications. That’s Owens the dedicated student.
Several times in recent months, Owens has written pieces for this web site and for Auburn football programs. He has shared his insight about football and about the demands of being, yes, a student-athlete.
That’s Owens the writer.
Owens, the nephew of Auburn icon James Owens, did not have an easy path to Auburn. But his mother, Ora, was always there, always supporting. Long before Owens became a high school football standout at Jess Lanier in Bessemer, long before he was a 4-star prospect, he thought more deeply than others his age. His ability to express his feelings in the written word showed early.
“I guess it started back in elementary school,” Owens says. “I remember specifically there was a writing contest we had to do, I think some kind of competition Duke had.”
Owens’ mother was working as a secretary in the college of education at UAB and frequently typed papers for her son. She showed his paper to her boss.
“He said it was as good as some of his college papers,” Owens says. “Ever since then, I took pride in it whenever I was given a book report or an assignment to write about something. I just thought it was my time to shine. It’s always come naturally to me, and as time went on, I just got better and better at it. It’s kind of easy to me. I think that’s my calling, something I’ve been blessed with.”
Owens says he expects to put the talent he has worked to develop into good use when his football days are done. Former Auburn wide receiver Thom Gossom, his uncle’s former teammate and close friend, is an actor. Owens has reached out to him for advice.
“I’m a movie buff,” Owens says. “I even asked him about getting into script writing. That’s something I’m interested in. And also sports writing. He told me if you can write in a way people understand and people relate to, that is truly a gift.”
Owens, like his uncle, is a gentle man off the football field. He’s active in the community and likes to work with children. On the field, he’s had a bumpy ride. He signed as a linebacker, moved to defensive end, back to linebacker and finally became a starting defensive end last season.
Not long after Auburn’s gut-wrenching loss to Florida State in the BCS Championship Game, Owens was in the weight room, working hard for his final Auburn season. He broke the fifth metatarsal in his foot. He would sit out spring practice, but he wouldn’t pout. He was defensive line coach Rodney Garner’s shadow.
“It wasn’t a full loss,” Owens says. “I spent a lot, lot of time in the film room, evaluating myself and learning from Coach Garner coaching the guys up. I took notes every day. I got some cutups made to put on my tablet so I could study at home. I did what I could to make the best out of it.”
That’s LaDarius Owens, student-athlete.
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: