SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY ATHLETICS PHOTO
Syracuse tight end Mike Owen, shown making a catch against Rutgers, was invited to a tryout by the New York Jets.
In a reference to his modest receiving statistics last season, Mike Owen took a realistic approach to his view of the National Football League draft. “I’m at the bottom of the barrel,” Owen was quoted as saying by NFLDraftScout.com before the draft.
And yet, even though Owen wasn’t drafted last week, the Syracuse University senior tight end may have felt as if he was on top of the world when he received a phone call from the New York Jets.
The Jets have invited the former Riverhead High School football star to try out for the team. Owen received the invitation about 45 minutes after the conclusion of the NFL draft on Saturday.
First, one of Owen’s agents, Craig Redd, called to say that the Jets wanted him. Owen, who watched the televised draft along with his parents, Don and Pam, at his apartment in Syracuse, was speechless. “I couldn’t even say anything,” Owen said in a phone interview. “I was bouncing off the walls. I was running all over the place. I broke down in tears. It was the greatest moment in my life.”
Don Owen said his son “looked elated. I can tell you, between me and my wife, some tears broke out.”
Several teams — including the Jets, Minnesota Vikings, Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans and Miami Dolphins — had expressed an interest in Owen, contacting him before the draft.
Mike Owen said he prayed for the Jets to select him during the draft. “It’s close to home,” he said. “It’s like the perfect situation for me.”
Don Owen said that if his son was going to be drafted, it was going to be in Rounds 5, 6 or 7.
“From a parent’s standpoint, it was very draining and nerve-wracking,” the father said after the ordeal was over. He said that when the Vikings used one of their seventh-round picks to select Penn State tight end Mickey Shuler, he figured his son wouldn’t be drafted.
But it wasn’t long before the Jets called.
“At that time we were all excited and happy. There was a lot of relief,” Don Owen said. “It was just a big joy. I couldn’t be any more proud of him. He’s done everything he’s been asked since he started playing football.”
Mike Owen is expected to arrive at the Jets’ training complex in Florham Park, N.J., on Thursday for a three-day tryout. If the Jets like what they see, they could offer Owen a contract, but that wouldn’t necessarily mean he will make the team after preseason training camp opens this summer.
“It’s good to get drafted, to have your name called, but it wasn’t a big deal to me because I just wanted a shot,” Owen said. “I want one shot to prove that I belong here.”
Last season Owen caught 12 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown for Syracuse. Over the course of his career with the Orange, he made 39 catches for 319 yards and three touchdowns.
Scouts from the Jets and several other NFL teams got to see Owen work out, along with Syracuse quarterbacks Greg Paulus and Cameron Bantley, during a pro day in the Carrier Dome in early March.
Scouts like Owen’s size (6 foot 4, 251 pounds) and soft hands, but want to see better blocking skills from him, according to NFLDraftScout.com, which projected Owen to be an undrafted free agent.
“Mike’s always optimistic,” the Riverhead High School football coach, Leif Shay, said. “He has a big belief in his ability, and he truly believes he can make it to the next level.”
Owen played several positions for Syracuse. He arrived at the school as a linebacker. A year later he was moved to defensive end, and then he spent his last three seasons playing tight end.
Owen, who will graduate next month with a degree in child and family studies, has also expressed an interest in coaching. But playing in the NFL could be at the top of his priority list right now. He said he had told his parents ever since he was in kindergarten that he wanted to play in the NFL.
Shay said he saw early on that Owen wasn’t a typical high school player. “As a freshman in high school, you could just see that he was a cut above the average kid,” the coach said. “He’s got all those intangibles. Kids like that are very rare.”
Rarer yet are the ones that make it into the NFL.
Don Owen said, “If he’s the Mike Owen that I know … he’s not going to let the Jets down.”