Heartbeat racing, Tobias Owens feels like the game is going a thousand miles per hour every time he enters the game for the first time.
But once the West Ouachita athlete puts his hands on his knees in the backfield and looks across the line of scrimmage, time stands still. At the snap of the football, everything is slower, as blockers engage the defense while the quarterback makes the handoff.
“He’s got great vision,” West Ouachita head coach Matt Middleton said. “It’s a gift. He’s probably one of the hardest guys to tackle because his vision is unreal. He’s not a quick kneejerk guy. He’s smooth. He’s in and out of his breaks and sees the whole field.”
It’s been this way for the 5’10”, 190-pound back since he was 3 years old. The game has always slowed down when the ball touched his hands. It’s why he loves screen plays so much, as the field opens up and he can see everything that’s developing in front of him in an open field. It’s also how Owens rushed for more than 1,200 yards and accounted for 20-plus touchdowns a season ago.
“I will say I give all of the honor to God,” Owens said. “He’s brought me here and I’m thankful for it. I used to watch Reggie Bush a lot and Adrian Peterson, but now it’s Saquan Barkley. I’m always trying to get better.”
Owens has made some plays that mirror those professional running backs. Owens’ best highlight to this point was a run he made against Loyola last year. Owens said he felt himself going down as the entire secondary hit him near the sideline shy of the goal line. Before he went down, he felt a push from behind. A couple of linemen helped drive him all the way to the end zone for a score.
As proven in Owens’ favorite highlight of his career, the senior tailback is capable of bulldozing a defender or hitting him with a side-step juke. Owens does more of the latter these days.
“It used to be just hard-nosed and run people over like my sophomore year,” Owens said. “Don’t have time to juke or didn’t back then. But juking saves your body for the long run.”
And saving Owens’ body from more physical damage is important moving forward. In Middleton’s two seasons as the head coach, he’s put Owens all over the football field, including at quarterback. And in both seasons Owens was unable to avoid injury.
As a sophomore, Owens had to overcome a hernia along with shoulder and ankle injuries, and in district play as a junior, Owens had to miss time with a meniscus tear.
“When you lose a player like him, it’s not just one kid,” Middleton said. “You lose two to three positions at once. You line him up at quarterback, receiver, running back, wherever because you want to get him the football. You’re not just losing one position because he might start at one position and be a backup for another. We had to pull a bunch of young kids in to play last year to the point we had 13 sophomores starting.”
Keeping Owens, along with every other West Ouachita player healthy, is a priority for the Chiefs entering 2019. Middleton is even adjusting practice to do so. Finding the right balance of keeping the Chiefs’ physical identity while also dialing back the intensity is the battle.
And Owens is preparing his body for another grueling season. Owens will play tailback and linebacker for the Chiefs in 2019. And to make matters tougher, this is the first season Owens and West Ouachita will play in Class 5A. Owens welcomes the challenge, though.
“I’m very excited about 5A,” Owens said. “I know it’s weird and kind of crazy to say but I like it when the odds are against us and we work through it. We’re trying to win this year and prove everybody wrong.”
Middleton said that’s what makes Owens the player he is today.
“He’s a tough kid that if you tell him he can’t do something, he’ll do it,” Middleton said. “If you don’t believe in him, shame on you because he’s going to prove it. He’s hard headed, but it’s a positive for him.”