Rodney Owens used to train with Tyrel Dodson back in high school.
That was Owens’ only connection with Centennial until Saturday when Memphis played its first scrimmage of the spring on the Cougars’ football field.
Owens is a former Ensworth safety who’s a third-year starter at Memphis.
Dodson is a former Centennial linebacker who plays for the Buffalo Bills.
“It’s great to be back and just be in Nashville to be around the city and family and all my friends, especially Ensworth,” Owens said. “I haven’t been back in a while with my team or playing football here.”
Ensworth coach Roc Batten, several members of his staff and a few players came out to see Owens, who was sidelined with a minor shoulder injury.
Memphis scrimmages in the Nashville area occasionally, trying to spread its fan base, to help with recruiting and reach out to boosters.
Owens was third on the team with 78 tackles last season. He also had three sacks and two interceptions.
“It felt great, just knowing you put in all the work and seeing the work pay off because it means a lot,” Owens said. “Like our coaches say now, it’s a process so you put in a great process and you get great results.”
The Tigers went 6-6, including a win over Mississippi State, in 2021.
Memphis earned an appearance in the EasyPost Hawaii Bowl, which was canceled when Hawaii dropped out due to COVID-19 and season-ending injuries and transfers.
Owens (6-0, 180) is optimistic about next season.
“I feel like we have something special growing here if we all keep focusing and working,” Owens said.
The fifth-year senior will return for his COVID year this fall.
“I call it insurance, so I’ve got an extra year to do what I need to do to chase my dreams,” said Owens, who hopes to play in the NFL. “There’s been a little bit of buzz, but I feel like it will come more as long as the season starts to get rolling.”
Three of Memphis’ games were canceled due to the pandemic in 2020.
Owens originally signed with Louisville, where he spent his freshman season in 2017.
Then he transferred to Iowa Western Community College, which went 10-1 in 2018.
Owens played at Memphis the past three seasons, breaking into the starting lineup for 10 games in 2020.
“I was dealing with a (hip) injury,” Owens said of his freshman season at Louisville. “Being away from home, being a freshman, I was a little angry that I wasn’t playing right away, still kind of young and ready to get out there.”
So Owens started over in junior college in the hopes of finding a new home where he belonged.
His best memory of the 2021 season was intercepting Tanner Mordecai’s pass at the Memphis 26-yard line with 1:36 left to seal a 28-25 win over then No. 23 Southern Methodist in November.
“I kind of baited the quarterback, thinking that I was going to go outside and then I jumped back inside right as he started to throw the ball, and it just hit me right in my stomach,” Owens said. “They were getting right in field goal range.”
Ensworth won a state title when Owens was a freshman in 2013 before finishing second the nest year.
Another former Ensworth player, sophomore Bryce Edmondson, is a backup linebacker for Memphis.
“He’s still learning and he’s getting better, but he’s definitely been making some great improvements this spring,” Owens said. “The coaches have been noticing his work and I think he’ll have a good season this year, too.”
Owens comes from a football family. His younger brother, Malik, is a former Stratford star who plays tight end at Eastern Kentucky.
His baby brother, Rashad, will be a freshman defensive back at Lindsey Wilson this fall. He won three state titles at Davidson Academy.
Their dad, Rodney Sr., is a former Maplewood star.
“We pulled in and the first family members we saw were a bunch of people in (No.) 30 jerseys tailgating and having fun,” Tigers coach Ryan Silverfield said. “(Rodney) is really physical. He’s one of those safeties that can play the deep post, but you also see him have the ability to come up and play the run, and he doesn’t mind that.”
Silverfield appreciates Owens’ positive approach to the game each day.
“He comes in with a smile on his face, ready to work,” Silverfield said. “I love Rodney Owens and I think he and I have a great relationship because he cares and he’s prideful. We use the mantra on the west side of Tennessee of being all in and he’s one of those guys who’s been all in since he stepped foot on campus.”
Safety Quindell Johnson, the Tigers’ second-leading tackler (104), forms a hard-hitting duo with Owens.
“Rod comes with the physicality,” Johnson said. “He’s smart as well and he’s versatile, so just having him in the back you can go either way when it’s game time. He’s a great safety and he can do it all.”
Owens’ football IQ, desire and consistency impressed Ricky Bowers, who coached hm at Ensworth.
“You could count on him,” Bowers said. “He was always responsible, not just for his position but for those around him. He’s really what every coach dreams of. He’s going to be out there early and stay late.”
His quickness was a concern during recruiting, but he overcame that.
“Well, if you’re in the wrong position, you have to be faster,” Bowers said. “If you’re in the right position, then you can cut down on your necessary speed, so I think he did a good job of knowing how to play and putting himself in the right position and he was certainly physical enough.”
Three underclassmen from Williamson County are on Memphis’ roster: Zach Switzer (WR, Summit, Redshirt Fr.), Spencer Rich (LB, Brentwood, Redshirt Fr.) and James Stewart (DL, Brentwood Academy, Redshirt Fr.)
Former Pearl-Cohn cornerback Caleb Clayton (Redshirt Fr.) is also on the team.
“Grateful and thankful for Centennial High School, a beautiful venue,” Silverfield said. “A great atmosphere today. They were absolutely fantastic. It was great so see so many fans from this area come out.”