Many happy returns


POSTED: Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The average hang time on a college football punt is roughly 5 seconds.

Enough time for Joey Chestnut to chow down a hot dog on the Fourth of July at Coney Island, or to kiss your spouse good-bye on the way to work in the morning.

But for fans of the 2004 Hawaii football team, those 5 seconds were a time to ponder the future.

Because every time the opposing team lined up to punt that season, Warrior fans across the state were asking themselves one simple question.

What was Chad going to do?

THE ORIGINS of Chad Owens' eventual success go way back to the ninth grade at Roosevelt High School.

As a member of the JV team, Owens couldn't wait to don the Red and Gold for the first time in front of friends and family at Roosevelt Stadium.

Game day arrived and Owens was ready to give everyone the first glimpse of an amazing career to come. Then he was hit with two of the scariest words in high school.

Progress report.

“;I was getting an 'F' in history class and I couldn't play,”; Owens said. “;At first, I was upset with my history teacher, but after we lost that game and I thought about it, I had nobody to blame but myself.

“;I went back and apologized to my teacher and from then on, I said grades would never make me miss another football game again.”;

They never did.

OWENS WAS getting looks from small colleges his senior year, but nothing at the Division I level. At 5-foot-7, he didn't have the prototypical size major college coaches look for at wide receiver.

But his high school coach, Lester Parilla, knew better.

“;You could tell with the way he moved and the way he ran and the work ethic he had he was something special,”; Parilla said. “;It was a diamond in the rough thing. He was just lacking the size.”;

Owens had his mind set on playing at Linfield (Ore.) College when his good buddy, Chad Kapanui, got a chance to work out for Hawaii coaches June Jones and Ron Lee.

Kapanui needed someone to throw to and Owens happily obliged. With the head coach of the hometown school looking on, Owens knew this was his only chance.

“;I was out there trying to put on a show, because this was my shot,”; Owens said. “;We were back there behind the scoreboard (of Roosevelt Stadium) where there's not much grass, mostly dirt, and I was diving on the ground trying to catch everything.

“;I don't think I dropped a pass.”;

Owens was one of the last people added to the summer roster as a walk-on. But as he practiced with guys like Ashley Lelie, Craig Stutzmann and Nate Jackson, he quickly realized the future in front of him.

“;I was rolling with all these big names and I was able to make plays,”; Owens said. “;Immediately, I had the confidence.”;

BY THE TIME a Brigham Young player hit him, Owens was already in the end zone. His 100-yard kickoff return helped the Warriors to a 72-45 rout of the Cougars to end the 2001 season.

A redshirt freshman, Owens saw sporadic time at the end of games as a slotback. Where he was given the opportunity to shine was as a returner, and nobody did it better.

He added a 76-yard punt return for a score against the Cougars, and by the time Hawaii was done rolling up the most points BYU has allowed in a game, Owens had set an NCAA record with 342 return yards.

“;You can't say enough about that game,”; Owens said. “;We dominated everywhere and for me to do that against an undefeated BYU team, it was amazing.”;

And it was only the beginning.

Before he even stepped foot on a field for his senior season, Owens already had put together a stellar college career. Most slotbacks are either strong or quick; Owens was both and he quickly became NCAA career passing leader Timmy Chang's go-to receiver. The criticism he faced coming out of high school was laughable. Too small? Yeah, right.

But that's the fuel that drives Owens to succeed. There's no bigger motivation than people saying you can't do something. So now that “;Mighty Mouse,”; as he was nicknamed, had already shunned the notion he wasn't big enough, he needed something else.

“;I'll be honest, as a college football player, your goal is to win a conference title and then after that, it's to go to the next level and play in the NFL,”; Owens said. “;I established myself as a player at the University of Hawaii, and now it was time to prove it at the next level.

“;That was the new question I faced every day, so I did everything I could to be the best every single day.”;





        Chad Owens has three of UH's top seven single-game performances in all-purpose yardage:




342Chad Owensvs. BYU, 2001
308Jason Riversvs. Arizona State, 2006
301Chad Owensvs. Michigan State, 2004
299Jeff Sydnervs. San Diego State, 1990
285Ashley Lelievs. Air Force, 2001
283Jeff Sydnervs. BYU, 1990
276Chad Owensvs. Northwestern, 2004
272Jeff Sydnervs. Maine, 1990
270Rusty Holtvs. Occidental , 1927
270Pete Wilsonvs. BYU, 1950




It started with a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown against Tulsa. A week later, he did it again, taking a punt 75 yards for a score against Nevada.

Both were home games and, with every Saturday, the chants became louder.

He made it three games in a row at Aloha Stadium with a punt return TD, going 71 yards against San Jose State.

But the streak was snapped against Idaho, and Hawaii was 5-5 needing wins against Big Ten teams Northwestern and Michigan State to clinch a spot in a bowl game. That's when the unbelievable happened.

“;I just remember the crowd's energy,”; Owens said. “;I could feel it, they could feel it, I felt like I was going to score every time.”;

He caught the punt cleanly and headed up the middle untouched. All that was left in his way was Northwestern punter Brian Huffman.

A punter? Tackling Chad Owens? No way.

“;I tripped and I was like, 'Oh no, I can't get tackled by a punter,'”; Owens said. “;I just kept pumping my feet and my teammates came and hit him and I broke the tackle and was off.”;

Off to the record books, that is—again.

He made it into the end zone for one of his five touchdowns in the game, tying a UH record. He added four more receiving TDs a week later in a win over the Spartans, helping the Warriors clinch a Hawaii Bowl berth against UAB.

He returned a fifth punt for a score against the Blazers, setting an NCAA record for one season and helping the Warriors win their second straight Hawaii Bowl.

His 22 touchdowns as a senior? Second in the nation to Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams.

My, what an ending it was.

HE WAS DRAFTED in the sixth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars and sparkled in camp. But problems holding onto the ball on punt returns cost him his spot in the NFL. Owens then played for the Colorado Crush in the Arena Football League before suffering a serious knee injury.

Back home on the mend, he helped head the Hawaii Football School, a weekly class to help youth both in on-the-field performance and areas away from the game, like academics.

Working with kids in sports is the life Owens hopes to one day lead on a permanent basis, but not quite yet.

Now that he's close to 100 percent physically, playing football is back on his mind. He is in Canada on the practice squad of the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, and hopes it's only a matter of time before he's back on the field.

“;It's the biggest obstacle I've ever had to overcome,”; Owens said of his knee injury. “;But like my career, I have to overcome things ...

“;The greatness of a man should not be determined by his success in life, but by what he is able to overcome.”;

Which is why, whatever CFL team he catches on with, you can bet its fans will get those same 5 seconds every home game to ponder one simple question.

What is Chad going to do?


Billy Hull is a Star-Bulletin sportswriter. Tomorrow we unveil No. 8. See for more on “;The Centurions.”;