By Logan Garrett, Editor-In-Chief —
Terrell Owens’ storied and celebrated career has concluded with his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but his ascension to the upper echelon of the sports world began 44 years ago in Alexander City, Alabama.
Owen’s saga started in a little, green house on Emerson Street in Alexander City — or Alex City to the locals — where Owens grew up with his grandmother, Alice Black, his mother, Marilyn, and his three siblings.
About an hour outside of Montgomery, Alex City is widely known as the hometown of Russell Corporation, the athletic apparel manufacturer.
For decades the company was the livelihood of most of the town’s residents, including Owens’ grandmother and mother, and even Owens himself.
Other than the factory, Russell is also the namesake for the local medical center, high school, and the library, but a name you do not see across buildings or hanging from rafters in Alex City is Terrell Owens.
Owens was not a high school All-American during his time at Benjamin Russell High School. He didn’t start until his senior year, and even considering quitting football altogether his sophomore year. He was not the hometown hero he is today, but he never gave up hope that he was destined for something greater.
“He always believed he should’ve played more, did he tug on my shirt a couple of times wanting to go in? Sure,” Former Benjamin Russell Football Coach Steve Savarese said. “But I would rather have a player that does that than one that just stood there and was satisfied. Terrell was never satisfied, and because of that, no one outworked him.”
Savarese continued to recall stories of Owens’ youth, including the time Owens drove Savarese’s Ford Bronco to prom, or the numerous times Owens babysat his children.
The strict rules enforced by Owens’ grandmother, Miss Alice, and Savarese instilled values of respect and integrity in Owens that he would carry with him to this day.
For example, Savarese did not allow any Benjamin Russell football players to wear any jewelry in the gym or on the field, nor did he let them grow out their hair or facial hair.
After Owens was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 1996, he purchased a pair of diamond earrings. That same year he returned to see Savarese at Benjamin Russell and worked out with the team, but before he began the workout, he looked across the room to Savarese and took out his elegant earrings.
Later that year he purchased his first vehicle, which just happened to be a Ford Bronco similar to the one he took to prom.
“The lesson that he learned in high school, that you have to earn what you receive and you had to work hard to get it, was a pivotal lesson that he exhibits everyday,” Savarese said. “If you aren’t passionate about something, you will never excel at it, and Terrell was one of the most passionate individuals I have had the pleasure of knowing.”
While Owens’ time in Alexander City was not the highlight of his football career, his upbringing in the small town laid the foundation for him to become the generational talent he was.