Owens, starter for '88 SWC championship team, dies at 51

By: Bob Holt
Published: Monday, August 21, 2017
UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman (8) is stopped by Arkansas linebacker Kerry Owens during the second quarter Monday, Jan. 2, 1989, at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. (AP Photo/Ron Hoflin)
UCLA quarterback Troy Aikman (8) is stopped by Arkansas linebacker Kerry Owens during the second quarter Monday, Jan. 2, 1989, at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. (AP Photo/Ron Hoflin)

FAYETTEVILLE — Kerry Owens, a standout defensive end as a senior on the Arkansas Razorbacks’ 1988 Southwest Conference championship team, died Saturday at his home in Denver. He was 51.

Owens’ death was confirmed by the Denver medical examiner’s office, but no details were available pending an autopsy.

Odis Lloyd, a teammate of Owens at Stuttgart High School and the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, said he learned of Owens’ death Saturday night.

Lloyd said he heard that Owens had been sick, but didn’t know any details.

“I’m just absolutely shocked that this happened,” Lloyd said. “I loved Kerry. Hearing this news was very, very tough.”

Owens, Lloyd and Reggie Hall — who also played at Stuttgart — were part of Ken Hatfield’s first recruiting class as Arkansas’ coach.

“Kerry was way too young to be passing away,” said Hatfield, who coached the Razorbacks from 1984-1989. “He was a tremendous guy and we pray for all of his family. I think everybody had great, great fond memories of Kerry.”

After redshirting as a true freshman in 1984, Owens played on Arkansas teams that combined to go 38-11 from 1985-1988.

As a fifth-year senior Owens helped Arkansas win the SWC championship for the first time since 1979 and play in the Cotton Bowl for the first time since the 1975 season.

“Kerry was a tall, rangy, good athlete,” Hatfield said. “He had good feet and good hands. He was very consistent. You could count on him to be in the right place and get his job done.”

Owens had 59 tackles in 1988, including 11 for losses totaling 75 yards.

“That’s real impressive,” Hatfield said. “It shows that when he had a lot of one-on-one opportunities he won them at some big moments.”

Owens had career totals of 114 tackles, including 17 for losses of 113 yards, 12 pass breakups, 5 forced fumbles and 1 interception. He was a backup as redshirt freshman and sophomore, became a starting outside linebacker in 1987 and moved to defensive end as a senior.

“As a redshirt freshman Kerry played a little bit and as a sophomore he began to play better,” said Lloyd, a four-year starter for the Razorbacks at rover and outside linebacker and Owens’ roommate. “As as a junior he came in and he played the way you’re supposed to play football.

“But his senior year is when he really turned into a great player. He stayed up in Fayetteville and went to summer school — this was before everybody spent the summer on campus — and came into his senior year like a crazed man.”

Hall at inside linebacker started along with Lloyd and Owens in 1988.

“At the time, we were just playing,” Lloyd said. “But looking back now and thinking about the odds of that happening — three guys from Stuttgart starting for a great defense at Arkansas — it was really awesome and unbelievable.”

Lloyd said Owens had been living in Denver for several years and was a taxi driver.

Owens was selected by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fourth round of the 1989 NFL Draft with the 89th overall selection. He was cut by Cincinnati, but signed with the Cleveland Browns and spent the 1989 season on their practice squad.

“Kerry was just a heck of an athlete and a very valuable, steady player and great teammate,” Hatfield said. “He was solid in everything he did.”

After the 1988 season the city of Stuttgart held a day in honor of Owens, Lloyd and Hall.

“We were given the key to the city,” Lloyd said. “That’s a great memory.”

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