James Owens wasn’t even there yet, and he was already part of the family.
Last school year, when Owens decided to transfer to Northeast High School from Imhotep Charter, football players at his new school started seeking him out on social media and welcoming him to the team.
It was the perfect way to start his new journey.
“Before I even got there they already welcomed me,” said Owens, who lives in North Philadelphia. “It felt like home, like family. They would text me, they found out who I was, they reached out to me on Instagram. And as soon as I got here, I built a bond with the coaches and the teammates.
“It helped my successes this year, because I’m confident in my ability and I trust the guy next to me. We all love playing with each other and that makes us a better football team. That’s why I think we had such a good season.”
The season included yet another Public League 6A championship, and for that, the right to play in the District 12 championship game, but that’s where the run ended.
The Vikings fell to St. Joe’s Prep 49-6 on Saturday in the title game, giving the Hawks the right to march on in the state playoffs.
It was a tough game for the Vikings, who were without the services of 11 players, including Owens, who was ineligible to play in the game because he transferred into the school. First-year transfer students are allowed to play in Public League games, but are ineligible to play in PIAA playoff games.
“It was very hard watching, but I was there trying to help,” said Owens, a junior who starts at safety and also plays receiver for Northeast. “How we pursued through hard times. We had a lot of perseverance.
“It was very tough not playing today because I wanted to help my teammates. We lacked in areas where me and my other teammates couldn’t play. There were 11 of us, a lot of us that couldn’t play.”
All year he helped his teammates.
Despite suffering a foot injury during the year, Owens was able to fight back and make plays on both sides of the ball. In doing so, he helped Northeast pile up some big wins, including triumphs over Winslow Township, from New Jersey, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and Abraham Lincoln in the Public League championship game. The only losses the Vikings suffered this year were at the hands of Archbishop Wood, St. Joe’s Prep and Imhotep Charter. Two of those schools are still playing in the state playoffs.
While Owens can make plays on both sides of the ball, he prefers lining up at safety and leading the defense.
“I like the physicality of defense,” Owens said. “I like being out there, it fits me.
“My role on the defense, I call out the plays, I make sure my teammates are lined up right, my job is to contain, make big plays and make sure that we win. I’m not a captain, it’s mostly seniors, but I do try to be a leader. I just want to help the team win, and they let me do a lot to make sure we win.
“The defense won us a lot of big games, make a lot of big stops. I love the schedule, we play some of the best teams out there. We did have a few issues during the season, but our coaches and team prepares. We work hard, execute how we’re supposed to.”
Owens is proud to represent himself on the field, and also proud to represent the Vikings. But every time he takes the field, he honors a few people who were very close to him.
His No. 12 jersey represents his friend Rasheed Clement, who was shot and killed last year. He also represents his aunt, who passed away from cancer. And he loves to represent his grandmom, whom he calls his biggest supporter.
“Rasheed was like my brother, he died of senseless gun violence,” Owens said. “I wear No. 12 because he lived on 12th Street. He was my brother, I was always welcome in his house and he’s always welcomed in mine. It was very hard to lose him. I also represent any of my friends who died, and my aunt. She and I were very close.
“My grandmom, I call her granny, she’s a big part of my success. She handles a lot of stuff for me, she made me the man I am today. She tries to get to games, sometimes she’s not able to because she’s a little disabled, but she watches them on the YouTube link. I love to make her proud.”
If he continues doing what he’s done, he’ll continue making his grandmom proud and do a great job of honoring the memories of the loved ones he lost.
He’s also setting the stage for a great senior year, but before that comes the annual showdown with Central.
“We have a huge game on Thanksgiving, that’s big for the school and our team,” Owens said. “I expect to go out and dominate. If we play the way we can, we can dominate. But they’re a good team.
“I’m very excited for next year. I’m going to run track this year. Our coaches prepare us, so I know we’ll be ready for next year. We work hard, but that prepares us. If we do what we’re supposed to do, we will be great.”