DU football alum makes his way into XFL

Courtesy of Garrett Owens | Duquesne alum Garrett Owens smiles as he takes the field with his Houston Roughnecks teammates.

Luke Henne | Editor-in-Chief

March 16, 2023

Less than two years ago, Garrett Owens was in Pittsburgh and competing for Northeast Conference titles as a running back on the Duquesne football team.

Now, he’s playing professionally as a member of the XFL’s Houston Roughnecks.

After spending his first four seasons of college football at Division II Mercyhurst in Erie, Pa., Owens came to Duquesne as a graduate student. He was a member of the Dukes during the Spring 2021 and Fall 2021 seasons, where he rushed for 1,041 yards and 10 touchdowns across 15 games during his brief Duquesne career.

A native of North East, Pa. — near Erie — Owens was selected in the second round (ninth overall) of the XFL Draft, which took place in November.

There was a whirlwind of emotions when he was selected.

“When I got the call from [Head] Coach Wade Phillips, I just was very grateful for the opportunity,” Owens said. “I talked to the other coaches, my position coach. I ended up getting a conference call from The Rock (Dwayne Johnson, the league’s co-owner), which was pretty awesome. Got to talk to some of the coaches, and they were all just welcoming me to the team.”

Duquesne Head Coach Jerry Schmitt said Owens “worked so hard to get that opportunity.”

“He joined us here for his last two seasons, and he was one of the hardest-working guys on our team when it came to physically preparing himself to play,” Schmitt said. “Then, once his eligibility was done, he continued that crazy work ethic that he has to prepare himself to potentially continue to play. The first thing for me was [that] I was so happy that he was getting rewarded for all that hard work.”

Owens took the unique opportunity and ran with it.

“I just transitioned from my job to a training program before I moved to Dallas, Texas,” Owens said. “Came down for camp, and just continue to work hard every day. Just maximize every opportunity that I’ve gotten at this point.

“Continue to try to be the best player that I can, on the field and off the field. Be the best person on the field and the best person off the field, and then just try to help the people and help the guys around me do the same thing.”

Schmitt said that Owens was “raised well, with a great work ethic.” That work ethic helped him get comfortable with his Duquesne teammates very quickly.

“It was tough for him to get acclimated to a team that had been together, some of the guys in his class, for four years,” Schmitt said. “He acclimated himself, mainly to the offensive guys because that’s where he spent most of his time … All I know is the guys respected his work ethic and how hard he prepared himself to be successful on the field.”

Phillips, who also serves as the Roughnecks’ general manager, served as a coordinator and head coach for a handful of NFL teams. Owens said that the way Phillips leads Houston is “unlike anything I’ve ever been a part of.”

“He’s a great leader,” Owens said. “He’s a great coach. He has a lot of experience that he shares with all of us, a lot of wisdom that he shares with all of us. He has been able to help our team come together really fast, which is one of the main reasons why we’ve been so successful with our 4-0 start.”

Because of the foundation Phillips has built, Owens believes the process of growing as a team has become much easier.

“We’re not losing sight of what our team’s culture is,” Owens said. “It’s a day-to-day thing, and there’s no doubt that we’re the closest team in the XFL. I know that we’re definitely probably one of the hardest-working teams, as far as practice goes. Every day in practice, I’ve never been on a team that has been this focused and this hard-working and dedicated.”

Owens has appeared in all four games for the undefeated Roughnecks, who are the only team in the XFL that has yet to lose a game.

Although he was a running back at Duquesne, he’s listed as a tight end.

Owens has three targets as a pass-catcher and one carry out of the backfield.

Schmitt said that, simply put, Owens will “have to take advantage of this opportunity in the XFL.”

“His goal is, obviously, to play in the NFL,” Schmitt said. “I know he’ll work at it, but at that level, everybody does. It’s extremely intense, the competition. I just hope that his hard work will pay off, and he’ll get an opportunity. I tell these guys all the time that you just want to be able to get a look, get in a camp.

“It’s going to be up to him to perform on the field. I’m happy for him, want to see him be successful. I know that he’ll grind this thing out. Hopefully he gets a break, gets a chance. That’s what everybody needs, unless you’re a top draft pick. Everybody really has to compete at that level.”

In four games so far, Houston has defeated the Orlando Guardians (twice), the Arlington Renegades and the San Antonio Brahmas. The Roughnecks are winning by an average margin of 16.8 points per game.

After playing each of its first three games at TDECU Stadium — the team’s home stadium — Houston is in the midst of a three-game stretch that puts the team on the road.

Owens could get his next shot to make a name Thursday night, when the undefeated Roughnecks take on the Seattle Sea Dragons. The game will be played at Lumen Field — home of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks — and will be televised nationally on ESPN.

While he’s still coming into his own at the professional level, Owens said he wouldn’t be where he is now without what he gathered from his time at Duquesne

“I was just grateful to transfer and finish out my eligibility there, and get my Master’s,” Owens said. “My thing, coming from Mercyhurst — which is where I did my undergrad and played for four years — I just wanted to maximize my opportunities, on and off the field.”

“That’s what Duquesne provided me, was an opportunity to maximize my potential on the field and off the field. I could’ve done that other places, but I just chose there because it was the right fit for me.”

He also thanked his coaches and teammates for helping him become the player and person he is now, even though his time in town was relatively brief.

“I was there for two years,” Owens said. “It’s something I’ll always be grateful for.