NFL legend Terrell Owens details his transition from self-doubting high school player to an all-time great

Pro Football Hall of Famer Terrell Owens finished his storied NFL career with 15,934 receiving yards. He was named an All-Pro five times and a six-time Pro Bowler.

Owens, an Alabama native, recently spoke with former NBA player Jalen Rose about how he once thought he would not make to the NFL.

“I wasn’t a great athlete when I grew up and when I came out of high school even,” Owens told Rose during a recent edition of “Renaissance Man” podcast.

“I didn’t think I was a great athlete coming out of college. I never knew that I was going to eventually become a Hall of Famer. That was never really on my radar.”


Jalen Rose attends the TAO x Maxim Big Game Party at Southwest Jet Center on February 11, 2023 in Scottsdale, Arizona. (Marcus Ingram/Getty Images)

Owens also touched on his childhood and how it impacted the early period of his football career. 

“My mom didn’t really know that I was going to become the athlete that I could,” Owens mentioned. “She didn’t come to games.”


Owens was primarily raised by his mother and his grandmother, both of whom he credits for helping him develop successful habits. He eventually went on to play college football at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Terrell Owens shakes hands with Jalen Rose

NFL player Terrell Owens (L) and former NBA player Jalen Rose arrive at the 2009 ESPY Awards held at Nokia Theatre LA Live on July 15, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The 17th annual ESPYs will air on Sunday, July 19 at 9PM ET on ESPN.  (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images for ESPY)

Once Owens started his sophomore year of college, he began to shine on the football field. He recalled his standout performance against Marshall University.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Owens noted. “We beat them 33 to 31. I had all four touchdowns. That would be emergence, I guess, of my greatness, or into, you know, the stages of good to great. But again, at that time, I still had no idea that I had the ability to play at the next level.”

Terrell Owens pregame ceremony

Hall of Fame inductee Terrell Owens speaks during a ceremony at halftime of the game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders at Levi’s Stadium on November 1, 2018 in Santa Clara, California. (Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

The San Francisco 49ers drafted Owens in the third round of the 1996 draft and he went on to have a prolific 15-year career in the NFL. 

All-time great Jerry Rice was still catching passes for the Niners when Owens arrived in San Francisco. But, once he retired Owens became the primary concern for opposing defenses on a weekly basis. 

“In the passing of the torch … me trying to fill some very big shoes that Jerry Rice had [filled] for so many years,” Owens said, “that was the emergence of my skill set, my talent … who I became.”

Owens was eventually traded to the Philadelphia Eagles and made a memorable appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX despite suffering a serious injury during the regular season.

“I tore the ligaments in my ankle,” he said. “The next day after the game, I found out I had broken my fibula.”


Owens was able to shed his self-doubt and became one of the greatest wide receivers to play in the NFL.

“As I grew up, I wanted to separate myself. Elevation requires separation. I knew that I had to do something different in order to get on those levels,” T.O. said.

“There’s great, and then there’s the level of greatness [even above most] athletes,” he added. “For myself, I’m proud to say that I’ve been spoken [about like] some of those people of greatness.”

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