JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - His game against First Coast complete, the teammates of Derek Owens formed a circle around the young cornerback, a gesture to thank him for his three-plus years of service to the team at Andrew Jackson High.
The Georgia commit had just played the final contest of his high school career, prior to Owens passing the age limit of 19 years and nine months allowed by the Florida High School Association.
Although the talented cornerback knew the day was coming, it still wasn't easy to know that his prep career was now a thing of the past.
"It hurt, it really did," Owens said in an exclusive interview at his school with UGASports. "Starting the season, I already had it in the back of my mind, but I tried not to think about it because I had some games (seven) to play. I just told myself to come out and go hard every day, but now that I can't play, it's tough."
No doubt Andrew Jackson coach Kevin Sullivan misses having him around on Game Day.
Owens leaves Andrew Jackson as his school's all-time leader in interceptions with 20, although he still tries to do his part during practicing as the team's scout team quarterback and "student" coach.
"I told him his job now is to help us anyway he can, whether it's to help the young kids or run the scout team," Sullivan said. "It was difficult for him, but he's moved on. He knows that his future is set and as long as he takes care of his academics, he's going to be fine."
Owens said that won't be a problem.
The 6-foot cornerback boasts proudly that he recently made an 18 on the ACT, and has already qualified to enroll at Georgia in June.
He can't wait to call Athens home.
"I don't have a father, just a mom, and I love Coach Sullivan to death. So, when we (Sullivan and Richt) went up to see Coach Richt, he talked to me like I was his son. I just felt real good when I left his office," Owens said. "It was just a great visit. I didn't want to leave. I kept asking Coach Sullivan if we could stay just one more day."
Owens said he's as solid to the Bulldogs as he can possibly get; a fact that's due to his relationship with Richt.
"The first thing I can say about Derek is that he's a great kid. He's a battler. I've watched him grow and mature from a scrawny ninth grader who got thrown in the fire early, but one who comes out and competes every single day," Sullivan said. "He's always been a guy who comes in ready to go with the ability to make everyone around him better."
Owens will be the second player from Andrew Jackson to sign with an SEC school in as many years. Former teammate and defensive back Corey Addison signed with South Carolina back in February.
"I talk to Addison a lot and ask him a lot of questions. We go back and forth all the time," Owens said. "When Georgia played South Carolina he was all nervous, but after the game he didn't want to text me. Nah, but we talk all the time. He told me the best thing I can do is just learn from the guys in front of you so when you're time comes, you can be ready to go in and impress.
"That's just what I'm going to try and do."
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