LAKE BUENA VISTA - The only thing seemingly smaller than Bucs receiver Chad Owens is his chances of finding an NFL home.
He always has been overlooked throughout his football career. One reason is probably because you would have to look down to actually find the 5-foot-7 Owens. It is why most college recruiters turned away at offering Owens a scholarship when he graduated from Roosevelt High in Honolulu. Owens decided to walk on at the University of Hawaii, but later became an All-American.
He was drafted in the sixth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2005, but saw little playing time. He signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent prior to this season.
Owens is currently the shortest player on Tampa Bay's roster. His best chance at making the team is as a kick returner. Of course, Owens' tall task is to become the first player in franchise history to return a kickoff for a touchdown.
Yet, Owens' desire to make Tampa Bay's roster is far greater than his physical stature.
'I've had to work hard my whole life. Nothing was ever given to me,' Owens said. 'I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me because I'm not the only guy who had to do it this way. There are free agents who have come in and ended up being superstars.
'I had an opportunity to walk onto Hawaii, play in front of my friends and family, and when I got an opportunity to play, I made the best of it, excelled, and the rest is history. Here I am in the same boat.'
Owens has confidence because the last time he was disregarded, it laid the foundation for a successful college career.
He caught a school-record 102 receptions for 1,290 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior in 2004. Owens also returned 36 punts for 531 yards and five touchdowns, which earned him second-team All-American honors.
Owens finished his career as the school's all-time leading receiver with 239 receptions for 3,031 yards (12.7 average) and 29 touchdowns in 44 games. He also returned 46 kickoffs for 1,354 yards, two touchdowns and a school career-record 29.4-yard average, plus gained a school-record 1,014 yards on 85 punt returns (11.9 average) and set another Hawaii mark with six touchdowns.
'He's from the University of Hawaii, so a lot of us haven't seen them. We were in bed when they played,' Bucs coach Jon Gruden said.
The only problem is Owens has not been able to duplicate that performance in the NFL.
'I really don't have the answer to that. It just comes down to making the best of your opportunities,' Owens said. 'I got a new opportunity here, and I'm definitely going to make the best of it. I can tell you that. I'm just excited and trying to get back to my form.
'I don't think I ever really lost anything I had. Unfortunately, things happen in life, but it's up to you to respond. Some people crawl into a shell and give up, but I'm not one of those guys. I'm going to be working until I die.'
Through three days of practice, Gruden has been impressed by Owens. Gruden said Owens' problem in Jacksonville was he dropped too many passes, but is excited about his potential on special teams with him possibly evolving into a third-down receiver.
Owens admits he dropped passes, but said catching has never been a problem. His biggest concern is grabbing an opportunity to become a key contributor this year.
'For a lot of the vets, preseason is kind of like, 'Ah, let's just get through this already. Let's get the regular season started,'' Owens said. 'For me, it's a game. A chance to get out there and prove myself. To show these fans what I can do, and give myself an opportunity to make this team and be able to help during the season.'