Exactly one year ago, Gerald Owens was a bit of an unknown for the West Deptford High School football team. He had the size (6-2, 245 pounds) and skill set well beyond that of the typical sophomore.
Owens himself was unsure of what role he would have on the team: Would he be a lineman? Was the fullback role in his future? Did he have the endurance to be a featured tailback?
For anyone who saw Owens take the South Jersey football landscape by storm with over 1,500 yards rushing and 28 touchdowns last season, those questions may seem laughable now.
However, Owens remembers how he felt last preseason and entered this year’s camp in much better shape and with a much better mindset. Owens is now in the best shape of his life, a thought that could cause opposing defensive coordinators to stay up at night.
“It feels a lot different this time,” Owens said. “I feel more experienced and my fitness level is better, so I feel I can produce more. Last year I wasn’t that good of a producer (in training camp). I was tired all the time with my hands on my knees huffing and puffing. Now I feel like I can step up and lead. Last year, I was one of the ones that had to get picked up.”
Owens made a habit of making would-be tacklers look foolish last season. Arm tackles were useless and even those who used proper technique were often left flat on their back for their effort.
But it isn’t just that Owens has the power and strength to run through defenders—he also has the speed to leave them in the dust. That combo is rare to find in a young running back.
Owens knows things may not come easy for him this season. If anyone didn’t know about him to start last season, they certainly do now, so defenses will be game planning in an attempt to slow down the force that goes simply by "G."
That hasn’t kept Owens from keep his expectations grand.
“I want to set high goals for myself,” said Owens, who said one big one is to increase his yardage total. “Last year was a good year for me, but I want to do better. I want to do better every year.”
Owens will not only be carrying the football plenty this season, but will be carrying an additional role as a leader. It’s a role that he has embraced and not one he has taken lightly. His goal is to help the Eagles defend their Group 2 title and get back on top of the Colonial Conference. To do that he knows everyone must give their all, day in and day out.
“We talk about intensity and that we have to keep the intensity up all the time in practice,” Owens said. “We can’t go out to a game flat, and if we practice flat we might play flat. We have to keep everything high speed all the time.”
The Eagles will have a new signal caller under center, as junior Alex Hilbmann is set to start his first season as a varsity quarterback. With the likes of Owens, Josh Cornelius and Connor Smith—call them Thunder and the Lightning Bolts—lined up behind him, Hilbmann can lead the Eagles to great success simply by turning around and handing off the ball. It’s a luxury that any inexperienced quarterback would be lucky to have.
As for Owens, he has the same faith in Hilbmann as he does the rest of the new West Deptford players.
“I’m very confident in everyone on the team,” Owens said. “Very confident.”
With Owens leading the way, it is no surprise that West Deptford once again has the look of a potential champion. The team will get its first test Saturday night against Lindenwold in the season opener, slated for 6 p.m.