It was obvious University of Toledo coach Matt Campbell was kidding midway through last football season when he called his quarterback a “big baby” in response to a question about the walking boot supporting the right foot of Terrance Owens.
Campbell long has admired the quarterback’s toughness, dating to Owens’ senior year of high school when the coach watched him shrug off the sting of one punishing hit after another to rally Cleveland Glenville in a state playoff game.
“He got up after every one, sprinted back to the huddle, and did a great job leading that team,” Campbell recalled this week.
Nothing has changed.
Owens recently disclosed he soldiered through two bad wheels at the end of last season, one more than he or anyone else revealed to the public while Toledo was mired in a miniature tailspin during the final month or so of a 9-4 campaign.
Bothered all season by a right high ankle sprain he sustained in the opener, Owens was stricken again, this time by a similar injury to his left ankle in the days leading up to the Ball State loss on Nov. 6. Curtailed was his freedom to run, as was his ability to plant his left foot — his back foot — prior to releasing the ball.
Owens, who threw for only one touchdown in his final three appearances, never got healthy until the season was over as the Rockets stumbled to a 1-3 finish.
“I remember there were times when I ran past him at practice, and I barely even touched him,” defensive tackle Elijah Jones said. “The coaches were yelling. He was pretty banged up.”
Injection of pain medication was required for Owens to play at Northern Illinois in a showdown between division rivals in the Mid-American Conference West division. His performance in the first half belied his physical state, as Owens completed 15 of 17 pass attempts against the best defense in the league. He had not practiced all week.
“I was feeling pretty numb the first half,” Owens said of the pregame shot. “Toward the end it started to wear off and things started to get crucial for me.”
Owens was 22 of 32 and tossed three interceptions in the 31-24 setback, though in his defense, two were the product of a poorly executed route and a receiver falling down.
The pain was so discomforting, Campbell said, that Owens could not walk the day after the game. Two days later, “he still could not walk.” Owens was in street clothes the next game against Akron and did not start three weeks later in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
“You never noticed it on [game days],” Campbell said.
Owens feels better this spring, and looks better, too. He gained 10 pounds, adhering to the training staff’s “prehab” plan to prevent injuries before it is too late. With a host of young and unproven players battling to be the backup, Campbell is mindful of the importance of keeping his starter upright.
Just don’t expect the coach to baby Owens. “Probably the No. 1 distinction I’ve seen with great football players is they’re not going to let an injury slow them down,” Campbell said.
SCRIMMAGE: Campbell said Saturday’s scrimmage was too short to glean much, though he is pleased through four practices by what he has seen from offensive tackle Chase Nelson and defensive tackle Orion Jones. Both are in line to fill vacant starting jobs.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.