Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”
Montell Owens, Jaguars special teamer and fullback
“For me that would be a college coach that I had named Jeff Cole [at Maine]. One of the things throughout my career from Pop Warner all the way to the NFL I’ve realized is that there are coaches who really care about your well being and winning, and there are coaches who just care about winning.
“One of the things some coaches don’t realize is that you can do both. You can actually teach a man to be a better man, improve his character while also winning.
“I didn’t recognize until just prior to his death that he really cared about my well being, he really cared about the guys on the team, he really cared about their well being. What kind of person are you going to be.
“Take a glance out into the world now and what you see are a bunch of kids, a bunch of athletes who are really talented, but the limiting factor on how far they go is their character. Their character puts a cap on how far they can go. A lot of that could have been changed had they grown up under a certain coach, and coach Cole was that for me…
“He was a young guy, maybe in his late 20s, early 30s. We got into spring ball after my third year, he comes walking out after he was away for a month. He had lost I want to say maybe 100 pounds. He broke the news to the team that he had some form of brain cancer, he’d gone overseas for treatment. At that moment in time when somebody tells you something like that, you think back to how they treated you, to what they instilled in you, to all those things. That hits you like a ton of bricks.
“He ended up dying, I want to say three weeks thereafter. He was deteriorating that far. They had sort of a home-going at his house before he died, when he was barely talking, could barely recognize you, couldn’t do anything. He pretty much told you, you’ve got to get things right today, don’t wait to be a better person tomorrow …
“Those principles that I learned while I was underneath his tutelage were the things that carried me that training camp here in Jacksonville my rookie season when I was the ninth running back coming in as an undrafted rookie. I think about him all the time, especially when I am going through a trying time. I don’t only think, ‘What would my father do, what would my mother do, but what would Jeff Cole do?’
“The way he lived his life has now become a part of the way I live my life.”