LaDarius Owens making a play during a football game
LaDarius Owens has a been a top 10 running back in the SWAC for the the Tigers and this season the junior hopes to make a move to the top of the pack. Credit: CREDIT TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

There isn’t any hesitation from Texas Southern running back LaDarius Owens when the topic of conversation turns to what he wants out of himself when the season kicks off in the fall.

“I’m looking to be one of the leading backs of the SWAC,” Owens said after Saturday’s Annual Spring Game wrapped up the Tigers’ spring football season. “I’m looking to be explosive and more of a leader on the team.”

A two-time Top 10 rusher in the SWAC, Owens is preparing for a season in which he can make the leap to the top of the conference in rushing. It’s a realistic goal in Clarence McKinney’s run-heavy offense.

“I’ve gotten bigger, faster and stronger,” said Owens, who finished tenth in the SWAC in rushing last season with 661 yards and five touchdowns on the season. “I’m reading my keys a lot faster than I would my freshman year.”

McKinney has watched Owens grow in each of the three spring seasons Owens has been on campus and is pleased with where the team’s leading rusher is going into his redshirt junior season. In addition to making plays on the field, the former Manvel standout has also become one of the Tigers’ leaders off the field.

McKinney was pleased that Owens came out this spring and showed growth in all facets of the game.

“He comes out, he makes plays, he protects when he is supposed to,” said McKinney, whose team finished fourth in the SWAC in rushing with quarterback Andrew Body and running back Jacorey Howard also being significant contributors to the Tigers’ ground attack. “We’re excited about what’s about to happen for him this upcoming season.”

McKinney believes big things are in store for Owens in 2023.

“I think the sky’s the limit,” McKinney said. “He has shown he can lead us in rushing, but he can also lead the conference in rushing. It’s just a matter of his going out and doing it.”

It’s without question that the 5-foot-9, 186-pound Owens is up for the challenge.

“I’ve grown mentally, I’ve become a better man in what I do,” he said. “My coaches know me and have developed me.”

Throughout his TSU career, Owens has proven himself to be a versatile running back who is capable of making big plays. His numbers might have been more robust during the last two seasons were it not for McKinney’s share-the-load philosophy. Body was the 13th leading rusher in the SWAC last season with 576 yards on 125 carries and Howard was 16th in the conference with 425 yards and six touchdowns on 97 carries.

Perhaps he will have a bigger role in the offense this season.

“He’s a guy who doesn’t have to come off the field whether that is short yardage or third-and-long,” McKinney said. “He can run the ball well, he can protect and he catches the ball well out of the backfield. He’s a complete back.”

Owens smiled when he heard what McKinney said about him.

“It feels good,” Owens said. “It lets me know that my coaches believe in me, want to see me succeed and have high expectations for me.”

But as excited as Owens is about his own possibilities this upcoming season, he is even more pumped for the Tigers. After being at the bottom of the SWAC West Division the last few years, the Tigers made strides last season with a 5-6 overall and 4-4 league finish that included wins over division champion Southern along with Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Alcorn State and Grambling State.

TSU, which finished third in the division in 2022, has a chance to take another leap with talents like Body and Owens returning.

“It’s a confidence builder,” Owens said. “Now that we know what a winning program looks like, it’s time for us to become better at what we do.”

I've been with The Defender since August 2019. I'm a long-time sportswriter who has covered everything from college sports to the Texans and Rockets during my 16 years of living in the Houston market....