Eli Owens doesn’t only find his love for football on the field. He also finds it in the minutiae.
Alcoa’s sophomore tight end, a rising area star, enjoys the schematic, strategy part of football just as much as the athletic, rough-and-tumble aspects of it.
“He likes the game. He likes the cerebral side of the game,” Alcoa coach Brian Nix told The Daily Times. “He wants to talk about gameplan. He wants to talk about scheme.”
He even wants to talk about it during games.
“Coach Sweetland, I swear he wants to kill me half the time because of all the stuff I ask him,” Owens said. “Every drive, when we come off the field when defense goes on, I always walk over to Coach Sweetland and I’m like, ‘Okay, what do I do here? What happened here? What are we thinking for the next drive?’ I always want to know what’s going on.”
Owens’ dedication to analyzing the game only strengthens the traits he brings to the field. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, he poses major problems for defenders trying to cover and tackle him; oftentimes, they simply aren’t able to.
Owens is Alcoa’s leading receiver on the season, totaling 433 yards and five touchdowns on 41 receptions. While those stats may not be eye-popping, consider that the Tornadoes’ offense doesn’t usually stay on the field for long; their major playmakers, whether it be Owens or standout tailbacks Jordan Harris and Elijah Cannon, often break off big scores just a few plays into a drive.
Three of Owens’ five scores came in Alcoa’s season-opening win against Rhea County, as he had touchdown receptions of 21, 13 and 22 yards in the Tornadoes’ 38-21 win over the Golden Eagles. His ability to line up in different spots on the field and make scores out of anything from a long pass to a screen play harken back to not only to his talent but also the work he puts into preparing for each opponent.
“Just great body control,” Nix said. “Really hard to tackle. He’s almost like a running back after he catches the ball. Great balance, a big, strong kid. Just played really well. Started for us almost every game as a freshman, and that’s rare in this program.
“We ask him to do a lot on offense. He does a lot of different things. He may be split out at receiver. He may be in the backfield playing at H-back. He may be on the line at tight end. So we ask him to do a lot of different things, and he does them well.”
Owens, though, gives all credit to the man throwing him the ball. The connection he has with quarterback Zach Lunsford is so strong, they even sometimes go golfing together, though Owens admits, “I can’t golf to save my life.”
“My play this year, you’ve got to take that all back to Zach (Lunsford),” he said. “Just the way that Zach has performed this year is amazing. Being able to take last year as a learning experience and being able to relate it to this year has been really, really nice. I’m just trying to build that chemistry with him as much as I can.”
Owens’ skills don’t just translate to the offensive side of the ball. He has also tallied 17 tackles this season and proven his ability to make an impact on defense, too.
“He’s played some defense this year,” Nix said. “He’s a kid who will be a really good linebacker and/or defensive end in the future, too. So we’ve tried to limit that because so much of our offense runs through him.”
The attention befitting a player of Owens’ physique and potential is there, too. He’s already received offers from multiple Power Five programs, including Tennessee, Michigan and Louisville.
His offer list is expected to only expand during the rest of Owens’ career at Alcoa, but don’t expect him to skip any film sessions. His dedication to, and passion for, the game won’t allow for that.
Owens wants to be in those film sessions, just as he wants to continue improving on the field as he garners more and more attention.
“Eli’s a kid who still has his best football ahead of him,” Nix said. “He’s continued to work. He’s continued (in his) development.”
“I’ve been in a football family growing up,” Owens added. “My uncle was a quarterback at William Blount in the early 2010s. My grandfather played football. All of my cousins over there on (one) side of the family (played). Just growing up around football and growing up in Alcoa, just seeing all those old teams win state (championship) after state after state, it was like, ‘I want to do that one day.’
“I’ve always wanted to be the best at whatever it is I do. (My mom) is a big part of that reason, too. She’s always pushing me. She’s wanting me to be better than I can. You can always get better at everything you do.”