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Countdown to Kickoff: 89 Days

Today we honor one of the most important people in Auburn football history.

Todd J. Van Emst / Auburn Media Relations

Before Kerryon Johnson patiently waited for the hole to open.

Before Tre Mason slashed his way to a first down.

Before Cam Newton plowed his way through SEC defenses.

Before Cadillac went crazy on Alabama.

Before Dameyune Craig willed Auburn to an SEC Championship Game.

Before Bo knew.

There was James Owens, Auburn’s first African-American football player.

Henry Harris was the first athlete to break the color barrier in 1968, helping pave the way for athletes to come. The very next year, Auburn assistant Jim Hilyer offered James Owens the opportunity to play football at Auburn. At that time, freshman did not play on the varsity squad so Owens would not see his first action until his sophomore year in 1970.

In an outstanding article written in 2012 by Joel Erickson for (yes sometimes they do ok), Owens talked about what it was like to be the only African-American on the football team.

Fear. All at once, Owens realized what he was doing.

The first black football player at Auburn, Owens would be the only African-American on the practice field. A lot of times, he knew he’d be the only African-American when he went to class.

There were times he felt like quitting.

”The first three years that I was here, there were days I got up and said, this is the day,” Owens said. “I’m going home. It’s not worth it. And I would call my mom and say ‘I’m coming home.’ And she’d say, ‘No. Stay.’”

I’m glad he did.

In 1970, the Tigers were a force. They would finish the year 9-2 and ranked #10 in the AP poll. One of those wins came over the Florida Gators in Gainesville, FL. The Tigers would rout the Gators 63-14. One of those scores? An 89 yard punt return by James Owens.

Owens didn’t have the most prolific career at Auburn only rushing for 225 yards and tallying 119 receiving yards but there’s no denying his impact on Auburn University. Auburn now honors his legacy with the James Owens Courage Award.

The James Owens Courage Award will be presented annually to a current or former Auburn football player who has displayed courage in the face of adversity, distinguishing himself while contributing to the betterment of Auburn University.

We sadly loss Owens in 2016 but his legacy lives on today. You see it every time a young African-American man decides to suit up for the Tigers. He was a shining example of what an Auburn man should be. War Damn Mr. Owens.

89 days till kickoff! War Eagle!