Speaking to a group of Brandywine School District sports captains Thursday, Montell Owens wished he could speak to the teenage version of himself.
The former Concord High School and University of Maine standout spent 9 seasons in the NFL, including making a pair of Pro Bowls with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2010 and 2011, and presented a lesson on being a leader to the high schoolers.
Afterwards he talked to WDEL about what makes a good leader, social media, and how he believes a good diet might have helped him extend his NFL career.
“If someone would have pulled me aside and told me, it would have saved me a lot of headache and stress. My parents only did what they knew, but there are always gaps in the parenting experience. Now that I’m a parent, I’m realizing that. There are going to be mistakes I make that I don’t know, so I think letting one’s hindsight be your foresight is one of the most important things anybody has ever told me. So when I come and speak, that’s always what I have in mind.
Montell credits his success to pushing himself in ways that weren’t always comfortable.
“I’ve learned to fall in love with doing what I don’t want to do. I found that no matter what I wanted to do, there was always an obstacle or hurdle. While many of those things could have been ‘well, I guess I’m not going to do that,’ for me it was ‘No, I am going to ignore the noise.’ Yeah, I am going to do what’s atypical and what no one wants to do. I found early on that it was extremely hard because I was taking a risk, but now it’s no longer a risk to me. Now I just see a benefit in doing that, and it’s now a part of who I am. Am I perfect? No. Are you perfect? No. We’re all passing through, if we think about our value in the grand scheme of the world, we’re a grain of sand on the beach. But we’re going to leave an impression on all the grains of sand on the beach, and we should all take that seriously.”
Impressions matter in today’s society. With the prevalence of sites like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and others, Owens says while they have value, they can’t mean everything.
“It’s hard to live your life these days, you need horse blinders. There’s so much trickery, and it’s a different world. I think social media has something big to do with it. I have a few business and we use social businesses to promote things positively, but a lot of the noise in social media in the internet world is leaving kids confused. I’m hearing all these messages here, but what about all the things my mom told me, or my dad or my coach told me, I didn’t hear that over here. One of the things I mentioned to them was it’s hard to be the 1%. It’s hard to not follow the herd and follow the 99%. If you do what 99% of what people do, you’ll get the 99% result, but what everyone is after is that 1% way, and that’s very hard with all the noise.”
Included in what Montell calls “noise” is the erosion of what success really represents.
“Success has been boiled down to an object. It’s a car, certain attire, a house, or things you put on a mantel. But success is none of those things. Success isn’t an object, it’s actually when one leaves a positive legacy and impression on all the people they’ve been around. That’s true success. With all the noise, it’s hard to have a measure of true success in today’s world. “
Montell Owens has had plenty of success. He was a 2-time Pro Bowl player in the NFL, but in high school the only All-State “teams” he made were as a trumpeter in the jazz and orchestra bands. He values both of them, for a similar reason.
“What’s interesting about both of those experiences is that I had to be voted in. That meant somebody else saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. If I spent all of my time hornblowing, and I don’t mean because I play the trumpet, in a ‘look at me’ social media way, I think one loses sight of his craft and what he’s passionate about. He becomes passionate at selling himself. I’ve always tried to humble myself because I know who I am, I know what’s important: my family, those relationships will be everlasting, football and band will be here today, but gone tomorrow. I didn’t place too much hope in those things. But those little moments I call Heaven on Earth where you’re awarded, it’s very meaningful because of the people who cared enough much to acknowledge it.”
When it comes to care, Montell is quick to say there is an extreme value in coaching and teaching, perhaps more than instructors realize by the nature of time itself.
I spent more time with my high school coach [George Kosanovich], Groome Mears [band instructor], Tony Smith [local trumpeter], and some of these key people than I did with my family. When you’re living a life dedicated to the jazz band, national honor society, baseball, and football, you’re only going home to eat dinner, where’s the meatloaf? That’s a debt I’ll never be able to repay, for what those coaches did for me. Not all coaches have been good, in my life there have been coaches who have brought people down, and they’re not good coaches. But for all the people I’ve gotten to rub elbows with, they’ve left a lasting impression.”
One impression Montell may have passed forward during the tail end of his run in the NFL may have been with his diet. He was introduced to veganism by his wife.
“When she mentioned this to me, I said I respect this, so out of respect I’m going to look into it. I had my wife call a triathlete named Brendan Brazier, he created a company called Vega. If we went into a store we’d see his products. I got under his wing, and he taught me the how-to and whys, I asked all of the questions I needed to ask, and I began to learn about it. And I saw all of the benefits of it beyond what people thought it was.”
There was still the matter of selling even NFL team nutritionists on veganism’s benefits.
“That sort of idea was very odd. Now it’s like, oh yeah I’ve heard of that, but back then it was like, you better be eating steak before the game. She’s the one who told me that 90% of who you are as an athlete from a health standpoint is what you eat, the 10% is going to the gym and getting your heart rate elevated, so she told me the 90-10.”
Montell Owens was always willing to take a slightly different path, but there have only been so many Delaware athletes who have performed on football’s highest level.
It’s wisdom you hope rubbed off on those Brandywine School District captains.