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Friday, September 11, 2009

Stanford's Owusu has been a hit so far

Stanford receiver Chris Owusu remembers everything but the hit. His mother, on the other hand, can't forget the play that flattened her son Saturday at Washington State.

Owusu, a sophomore from Oxnard, suffered a mild concussion after safety Eric Block slammed into him on a deep route midway through the third quarter.

Luaiva Taaloga Owusu had been watching the game on television at a friend's home in Southern California. After the play that sent Owusu to the sideline, his mother went to the car to sleep.

"From that moment I was having a bad headache," she said. "Once something hurts my kids, it's tough for me."

The symptoms faded quickly, and Owusu is expected to play Saturday when Stanford faces Wake Forest in a non-conference game in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Owusu brings a dimension to the Cardinal it hasn't seen in recent years — a game-breaking receiver with blazing speed. The sophomore returned three kickoffs last weekend for 143 yards, including an 85-yard touchdown run. He also scored on an electrifying 63-yard pass play.

"It's a beautiful thing to throw a ball a half a yard and see a guy as explosive as Chris take it 63 yards to the end zone," quarterback Andrew Luck said.

Stanford has expected beautiful things from Owusu since he arrived last year from Oaks Christian High School in Westlake Village. Owusu was one of California's fastest high school sprinters who ran the 100 meters in 10.42 seconds.

"When I came here they told me they needed someone to make those explosive plays," said Owusu, who also was a basketball star at Oaks Christian. "That's what I wanted to do."

But it's not exactly the route he envisioned when choosing Oaks Christian, known as the school of the stars with sons of Wayne Gretzky, Joe Montana and Will Smith having played there.

Owusu went to Oaks Christian to play basketball and run track.

"Freshman year, I thought he could play at the next level" in basketball, said friend Isaiah Kempf, now a quarterback at Georgetown.

Football, at first an afterthought, prevailed. But that didn't even go according to plan. Owusu expected to be a running back. By his sophomore season he converted to receiver.

Quarterback Jimmy Clausen pitched the idea.

"Chris wasn't sure," Clausen's father, Jim, said. "He had always been a track guy. We convinced him to come out."

It didn't take much for the country's most acclaimed high school quarterback at the time to persuade Owusu.

And now "we kind of wish he was at Notre Dame," Jim Clausen said of the school where his son plays quarterback.

Instead Owusu landed at Stanford with another respected signal caller. Cardinal receivers spent the offseason catching thousands of balls in anticipation of Luck's debut this year.

Although devoted to football, Owusu didn't begin playing organized sport until the fourth grade. His father didn't want his five children overemphasizing athletics because "academics was always first," Francis Owusu said.

Another son, Brian, is a freshman defensive back at Harvard.

Francis, though, knew his children had the genes to succeed in athletics. He said he made the 1976 Olympic team for Ghana as a 400-meter runner but didn't participate because of an African-led boycott.

He moved to America in 1978 to attend Utah State on a track scholarship. Later, he met his wife, who is Samoan, while living in Oxnard. Although from different parts of the world, they held similar beliefs about caring for their children.

They're still concerned about lingering effects of the big hit.

"I told him, 'Please, don't play this week,' " his mother said.

Owusu, who has recovered completely, shrugged off the concerns, and hopes to have another big game.

"We've seen this coming," coach Jim Harbaugh said of Owusu's explosiveness.

Now opponents have, too.

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