For a kid who never played football before his sophomore year, Lampeter-Strasburg senior defensive end Parker Owens sure has done a lot of damage.
A soccer player and a wrestler by trade, Owens joined coach John Manion and his Pioneers’ gridiron squad the summer after his freshman year when he showed up for team camp at Millersville University. His only football knowledge up to that point were odds and ends he picked up watching NFL games.
Owens literally had to learn the game from scratch as a 10th-grader. Manion likes telling the story about trying to explain the intricacies of the 2-point safety play and all that it entails to Owens.
“I didn’t understand any of the plays at all when I started,” Owens said. “The coaches had to explain every single play to me. It was hard. And I’m still learning.”
Owens had an inauspicious start in a Pioneers’ football uniform. Midway through his sophomore season while playing receiver, he caught his first career prep pass against Manheim Central. When Owens was finally tackled, he landed awkwardly and suffered a lacerated kidney — an injury that ended up costing him the rest of his sophomore campaign.
To add insult to that injury, Owens ended up re-lacerating the kidney later that fall.
No football before his sophomore year, and a sophomore season cut short by a lacerated kidney, but that didn’t slow down Owens. In fact, Manion knew early on that if he and his staff could lasso him in, he’d be a monster defensively.
“We saw Parker’s raw talent when he came out,” Manion said. “We knew that once he figured it out, he was going to be a special player.”
Owens is an absolute terror off the edge. He’s nearly impossible to block, and it’s rare when he’s not in the backfield, wreaking some sort of havoc or blowing up a play before it gets started. Owens had four sacks in L-S’s win over Conrad Weiser in the District Three Class 4A semifinals, as he’s made a name for himself all around the region.
“My goal on every play,” Owens said, “is to get to the quarterback.”
He’s done plenty of that this season for the Pioneers, who are prepping for Friday’s home showdown against District Four champ Jersey Shore (9-0) in the state semifinals. A trip to next Saturday’s PIAA title game will be hanging in the balance, as L-S (9-0) readies for its third state semifinal appearance.
Owens’ stats leap clear off the page: An incredible half of his 48 total tackles have gone for losses — a dizzying, bone-crunching 24 hits behind the line of scrimmage — and Owens has piled up 13 sacks and 11 QB hurries. Tack on a pair of forced fumbles, two pass breakups, a fumble recovery and an interception, and he has inflicted a slew of damage on opposing offensive weapons.
“I’m proud of myself, but I always feel like I can do better, and there’s always room to improve,” Owens said. “When I watch film, I’m not looking at the sacks. I’m looking for my mistakes, and how I can fix them.”
Owens has also chipped in with the kicking duties this fall, with 13 PAT boots, plus four touchbacks on kickoffs. Despite his late start into the game, he’s been a quick study and an instant contributor.
“He has great instincts, and he goes by what he sees,” Manion said. “He has such a feel for the ball. And this is still all a new experience for him because he’s learning the game. Whoever gets him is getting a steal. He’s a tremendous athlete, and he has so much upside because he has a body to put on weight. He has a chance to play at a high level for a long time.”
Owens is an offensive coordinator’s worst nightmare, because of his skill set and uncanny ability to shed blockers and get to the ball-carrier. And L-S has been so good defensively this fall that you can’t double-team Owens, because someone behind him will make a big stick.
“He’s also missed some sacks because he’s coming in so hot that he’ll overrun the quarterback,” Manion said. “Parker really works hard on his craft, and he’s on the field for every snap at practice going up against our No. 1 offense. He’s always working, and he has such a great feel for the game. He has a real knack for finding the football. Sometimes we have to mix it up at practice because he’ll be on our quarterback like three plays in a row.”
“He gets us going,” Manion added. “He’s tough to block in the run game because of his speed off the snap.”
The truly scary thing is that Owens, a lean and mean 6-foot-3, 205-pounder, is still learning the game, and he gets plenty of pointers at home from his dad, Mick Owens, who played football for Manheim Central during his prep days.
Owens started making a name for himself last fall, when he earned a starting spot at defensive end and book-ended all-star Jake Hines. Those two teamed up to chase plenty of opposing quarterbacks, and helped L-S win the District Three Class 4A title and go to the state semifinals.
Hines graduated. Owens, who has an offer from Carnegie Mellon University, spent the offseason lifting and working on his game, and he returned with a chip on his shoulder, hellbent on disrupting as many backfields as possible, while helping the Pioneers defend their district title and clear the state semifinal hurdle.
L-S made it back-to-back district crowns with a 20-3 triumph over Elco last Friday. Now the Pioneers will try and punch their tickets to the PIAA finale for the first time in program history when Jersey Shore comes calling.
One of the Bulldogs’ top priorities will be knowing where Owens is before every snap. And then bracing for his exceptional bull-rush and wrap-and-tackle skills, which are off the charts for a third-year player.