By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Joshua Owens finds all the motivation and inspiration he'll ever need each and every time he exits the weight room at Warren County High School.
The rising senior walks down the hallway and pauses at the school's trophy cases, gazing at two familiar faces. One is a photo of his older brother, Joseph, a former state high jump champion at Warren County who went on to become a four-time Division III All-American in track at Christopher Newport University.
The other photo is of his late father, Joe "Ace" Owens, a former standout in football and track at both Warren County and later the University of Richmond.
Ace Owens passed away when Joshua was just 8 years old. Joseph, his older brother by 10 years, in many ways filled in as his father. Both are Joshua Owens' biggest heroes.
"Every day," Owens said of how often he stops to look at those displays. "I always have lifting, and every day I stop by and look at my brother's state championship on the right side and my dad on the left side in the hall of fame. It's just an honor to have the same name as them, to try and live up to them."
Owens enters his senior season looking to make his own mark on the football field for the Wildcats. He's slated to start two ways for a Warren County squad with plenty of holes to fill from last season's playoff squad.
Warren County coach Tony Tallent is confident that he has two less spots to worry about when he pencils in Owens' name at inside linebacker and tight end.
"He's the kind of kid, always a 'Yes sir, no sir,' kid, he's a straight student-athlete," Tallent said. "You always count on him in the classroom. He's a model representative of our program in the community. He's the kind of kid that makes you want to come to school and come to practice."
On the field, Owens filled a part-time starting role at linebacker last year. After coming through Warren County's school system as an inside linebacker, Owens had to bounce to the outside when Jacob Hill battled injuries last year. Owens started at outside linebacker in the Wildcats' playoff game against Kettle Run. He'll move back to the inside this year to help solidify the Wildcats' run defense.
"We're going to be solid this year," Owens said. "Our defense has really stepped it up, from our line to our backers and our secondary. We got a lot of experience last year because our starters were able to shut some people out and let us get a chance to have at them."
Owens totaled 19 tackles and a fumble recovery on defense last year. On offense, he served as the Wildcats' second tight end in those sets, playing opposite of Zane Grudzinski.
"I'm going to be out there receiving a little bit, but we're doing a lot of blocking plays," Owens said. "Really, it's both -- it's going to be pretty equal this year."
No matter where he plays, Owens is just glad to be out on the football field. It's been the same feeling he's had since he lost his father, who died from a brain aneurysm before ever seeing Joshua take the field for an organized game.
"Dad was always talking about football," Owens said. "Him and my brother really wanted me to play midget and ever since then I've loved football. My dad never got to see me get out on the field, which is hard, but I just know that he's with me."
Owens can count on older brother Joseph to continue providing support and guidance as he gears up for one final season.
"I had to look for someone like my brother to be like a male figure to look up to," Joshua Owens said. "I'm so proud to be related to someone like my brother. He really came through for me and was the strong one."
Like his father and older brother, Joshua hopes to compete and excel in track and field at the collegiate level. Joseph Owens starred as a high jumper, while Joshua's top event right now is the long jump.
Those are plans for the future, though. Right now, Owens wants to do all he can to make sure the Wildcats have a successful debut as they move into the Bull Run District this season.
"It's exciting, just knowing that we're going to be playing people with the same amount of kids in their school as us," Owens said. "We've been the underdogs a long time."
Owens will do his part, Tallent knows that for certain.
"I try to speak up and try to let everybody know what they need to do, be a leader," Owens said.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>