WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. –
Seemingly each time Oaks Christian (Westlake Village)
has needed a momentum-changing play this season, the coaching staff has called on No. 8. And Francis Owusu
There was a time, however, when things were different.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound senior receiver and Stanford commit had to wait his turn. He's remained patient and continued to work tirelessly to transform himself into both a reliable presence for the Lions and one of the West Coast's premier prospects.
"You love having a player like Francis on the roster. He's the first one to arrive at practice and the last one to leave," said Oaks Christian coach Jeff Woodruff. "Some guys talk the talk. Others walk the walk. Francis is the latter of the two examples. He's a leader for us, no question about it.''
Owusu should be a difference-maker this week for the Lions (3-0), No. 20 nationally in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 rankings
, when they host Chaminade (West Hills, Calif.)
Friday night in one of Southern California's marquee nonleague matchups. Chaminade (3-0) is aware of what Owusu is capable of doing.
"Over the last year, I've noticed that teams pay more attention to me and I don't think things will be any different against Chaminade,'' Owusu said. "This is a big game for us. The school we're facing wants to win. We're not thinking about losing either. That's not us being overconfident. We know what needs to be done. We have a good game plan — it comes down to execution.''
When the Lions target Owusu, things tend to get executed. He has 21 catches for 365 yards and five touchdowns in three games. Owusu also plays in the secondary for the Lions — and is the punter, to boot.
"He does it all for us,'' Woodruff said. "When you have a player as talented as Owusu, you have to find ways of getting him on the field. No sense in sitting on the sidelines.''
Owusu didn't play on varsity his first two seasons and last year lined up alongside one of the Southland's top receivers, current UCLA freshman Jordan Payton, who had 61 catches for 769 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Then sophomore Chris Davis (60-598-5) also developed nicely, so Owusu turned out to be the team's big-play receiver averaging better than 20 yards per his 35 catches and eight touchdowns.
Motivated to become more of a focal point offensively, Owusu worked hard in the off-season to earn the trust of junior quarterback Brandon Dawkins.
"When we need a first down, or touchdown, the ball is going to No. 8," Dawkins said. "I have confidence in him and know that he'll come down with the catch. As a quarterback, you like having someone on your team who is clutch. He makes my job easier in the pocket.''
Learning from his older brother, Chris, has been a major factor in Owusu's development. Chris was a standout at Oaks Christian before a successful but injury-plagued college career at Stanford. He recently earned a spot on the San Diego Chargers' practice squad.
It came as no surprise when Francis committed to Stanford this summer, following his big brother's path.
Working with Oaks Christian receivers coach Mike Sherrard for three-plus years has undoubtedly played a part in Owusu's advanced progression. Sherrard starred at UCLA in the mid-1980's and enjoyed an 9-year NFL career with four different teams.
Based on his efforts, as well as the upside he possesses, Tom Lemming and MaxPreps ranked Owusu as Southern California's top receiver
and No. 23 in the country overall.
"Owusu is one of those players every coach likes to work with,'' Sherrard said. "You could see that he had all of the skills as a sophomore. It was just a matter of fine-tuning some things. I think last year, toward the end of the season, he took a big step in the right direction.
"What you see now is close to a finished product, at least at the high school level. Owusu has a great set of hands, runs crisp routes, and is tough to bring down after the catch. He has a high ceiling. He'll be ready to play college ball once he gets to Stanford. Sky's the limit.''
In the meantime, it's reasonable to expect that Owusu will be involved in the offensive game plan early and often against Chaminade
— and the rest of the season.
"My coaches have told me that I need to be prepared to work overtime, and that's fine with me. I've put in the hours to be ready for a chance like this,'' Owusu said. "This is my senior season. Opportunities like this come around once in a lifetime. I'm ready for the challenge.''
Sean Ceglinsky has covered preps and college sports in Southern California for the better part of the past 15-plus years. Follow him on twitter: @SeanCeglinsky