Eli Owen went a long way in his first year of college football.
The Lemon Bay High School graduate traveled to North Dakota to play for Trinity Bible College, where he switched positions and became a defensive force.
"It's truly just a blessing," said the freshman, who played all eight games (4-4). "My mom gave me the courage to come. I'm just trying to make the best out of it."
Owen opened the season playing three games at tight end before the coaches moved him to right defensive end to give the team an advantage in pass rushing. He finished with four receptions for 22 yards.
Twenty-four of his 28 tackles, which ranked sixth on the team, came after the switch. His three and one-half sacks were second on the squad, and his three forced fumbles tied for first.
"He's definitely been a great help throughout the second half of the season," said Tanner Twigg, Trinity Bible defensive coordinator.
Listed at 195 pounds, the 5-foot-11 Owen was the lightest of the linemen. "Being on the defensive line at 190 pounds, it takes a toll," he said, adding that he will try to bulk up to 205 by next season.
His size disadvantage aside, Owen asserted himself his first game at defensive end. Against Lewis-Clark Valley College, he had a 10-yard sack, forced two fumbles that teammates recovered and made four tackles.
"He was able to be an impact right away," Twigg said. "He controls his gap really well. He's very strong for his size."
The first-quarter sack came on a fourth down and long at the Trinity Bible 20. "I usually go off the edge or pick a gap and go through it," Owen said. "I came clear through. It's all the other guys doing their job."
In the third quarter he forced a kick returner to fumble. With Lewis-Clark trailing and driving to begin the fourth quarter, Owen tackled the quarterback on a rush to the Trinity Bible 4 and forced another fumble. The Lions held on for a 21-20 win.
"He's very fundamentally sound," Twigg said. "He's got some go-to moves."
Owen had a season-high nine tackles and one and a half sacks against Robert Morris University in Peoria during the next game, also a win. "They just kept running," he said. "I would do my best to get there."
He said his off-season training starts this coming week with lifting weights.
Send updates about area athletes to Barbara Boxleitner at email@example.com.