Commentary

Owens beat the odds to become a star

Updated: October 17, 2008, 8:09 PM ET
By Harold Abend | ESPNRISE.com

Whether you love him for his play on the gridiron that has him on a path to challenge boyhood idol Jerry Rice's records, or hate him for his on- and off-field antics, you might be surprised to learn that the road to stardom for Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens has been anything but easy.

[+] EnlargeTerrell Owens
AP Photo/Tim SharpTerrell Owens followed his dreams to NFL stardom.

Just like others portrayed in this continuing series on ESPNRISE.com about unknown preps who became big-time pros -- including Seneca Wallace, Michael Strahan, Larry Allen and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- Owens was no shoo-in as a high school football star, or even as an athlete. He was not on recruiting lists, like so many others playing high school football now, but he never gave up on his dreams of playing at the highest level.

"I find it funny that so many people assume I was a star jock coming out of high school," Owens wrote in his 2006 autobiography, "T.O." "They assume I was the most popular kid in class who got all the girls. I wish! That couldn't be farther from the truth."

Terrell Eldorado Owens was born Dec. 7, 1973, in Alexander, Ala. During his early childhood, his mother, Marilyn, moved around often, and Owens often stayed with his grandmother Alice. He got a late start in sports because Alice initially forbade him from playing.

Once he enrolled at Benjamin Russell High School in 1988, Terrell's athletic career slowly progressed. Although he lettered four times in football, he didn't start until his senior season and had to be talked out of quitting the sport by his coaches. Basketball was his best sport, but he also earned a letter in baseball.

Because he was a late bloomer in football -- and because of his desire to be a multisport athlete -- few Division I colleges recruited Owens, although he was tall, solidly built and fast for his size.

Tennessee-Chattanooga landed Owens because the coaches didn't mind his playing other sports. While at Chattanooga, Owens played basketball -- his team made it to the 1995 NCAA Tournament -- and ran track.

Owens also played football and wore the No. 80 jersey in honor of his idol Rice.

He didn't distinguish himself right away, but by his sophomore season, he had become a starter and caught 38 passes for 724 yards and eight touchdowns.

Owens pulled in 32 balls for 357 yards and three TDs in his junior year, and despite double coverage his senior year, he had 43 receptions for 666 yards and one touchdown.

Mostly because of his size and speed, the San Francisco 49ers took a chance on Owens, drafting him in the third round of the 1996 NFL draft. He made a name for himself after replacing Rice in 1997 when his idol went down with an injury.

Now in its 13th year, Owens' NFL career has been marred by controversy, in-fighting with teammates and coaches, fan-inciting celebrations, and other headline-grabbing antics.

What no one can deny is what T.O. has done on the field. At this time, he has amassed 13,437 yards receiving with 134 touchdowns with the 49ers; the Philadelphia Eagles; and his current team, the Cowboys.

The 6-foot-3, 226-pound Owens is also a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time first-team All-Pro.

Whether or not he breaks any of Rice's records, Owens will still be considered alongside his idol as one of the greatest wide receivers to play the game.

Somewhere out there, the next Terrell Owens is wearing his No. 81 jersey just as T.O. wore "The Flash's" jersey as a youth. And maybe that kid isn't on any recruiting lists, either.

Harold Abend is a regular correspondent for CalHiSports.com and is a freelance writer in San Rafael, Calif.