Daily Press Male Athlete of the Year: Faith drives Bethel's Jeremiah Owusu

Contact Reporterkyanchulis@dailypress.com

HAMPTON — Bethel senior Jeremiah Owusu turned to catch a pass during the first game of the 2016 football season, then headed upfield, certain a defender would catch him from behind.

Instead, he found an extra burst of speed within him and broke down the field for a big gain for the Bruins. As he walked off the field, he made sure to send a quick prayer of thanks to God.

"I'm not saying, 'Oh, it's the angels pushing me down the field,' but I try to recognize the talents and the gifts I've been given," Owusu said. "I give God all the glory for what I'm able to do, on the field and on the court."

The Daily Press Male Athlete of the Year proceeded to make waves across the athletic spectrum.

A muscular 6-foot-2 and 190 pounds, Owusu played at defensive back, linebacker, defensive end, wide receiver, return specialist and even long snapper for the Bethel football team. After the season, he was named to the Group 5A all-state first team as an all-purpose defensive player and the all-state second team as a receiver.

All the while, his college recruiting process accelerated. Owusu committed to play for the University of Virginia in October but continued to receive offers from high-profile programs.

He and his older brother Jerry Brooks visited Virginia, Clemson, Michigan State and Notre Dame. On National Signing Day on Feb. 1, Owusu announced he would join the Fighting Irish.

He also served as a defensive powerhouse for the Bethel basketball team. He averaged 13 points per game and blanketed opponents' star players for the Bruins through a run to the Group 5A state final, where Bethel's season ended in a 65-52 loss to L.C. Bird.

Throughout the whirlwind year, his Christian faith kept him centered, according to Owusu.

He had attended church with his family throughout his childhood, but while he would listen on Sundays, he rarely would put the lessons he heard into practice.

During high school, Owusu started attending Liberty Baptist Church, next to Bethel High School, and the church's student ministry in particular struck a chord.

He became close with Chip Dean, the Liberty Baptist student pastor, who also volunteered as the Bethel basketball team chaplain. Dean and Owusu started meeting for breakfast on Mondays, and Dean said as he mentored the student-athlete, he became impressed with Owusu's humility and self-awareness.

"Every time he posted on social media about a scholarship offer, he would say in the post, 'Glory to God,' " Dean said. "He was always mindful of the fact that it's not his talent. It's not his opportunity. It's a gift God has given to him."

During the recruiting process, Dean had counseled Owusu that God often saves the best opportunities for last. Notre Dame, which Owusu had always considered one of his dream schools, came through with his final scholarship offer in January, a turn of fate not lost on Owusu.

Notre Dame may be the most well-known religious university in the country, its Catholic affiliation on full display at each football game thanks to the "Touchdown Jesus" mural overlooking the football stadium. Yet Owusu took care to distinguish between religion and personal faith.

"It's more of a personal thing, if you believe in something, if you believe in God, if you have a strong faith," Owusu said. "When people ask if I'm religious, I say, 'No.' I'm really just a man of my faith."

Owusu graduated with honors from Bethel on June 15, then departed for South Bend, Ind., the next day, a caravan of family and friends in tow to help him get settled. His summer classes at Notre Dame started June 19.

The Fighting Irish plan to utilize jack-of-all-trades Owusu at the rover position, a linebacker-safety hybrid that is a signature of new defensive coordinator Mike Elko's scheme.

Owusu said he is not sure whether he will redshirt, though he could be a prime candidate, as he will not celebrate his 18th birthday until November. Either way, he hopes to establish himself as a reliable presence from the start.

"Even though I'm a freshman, I want to be that guy that people come to and talk to," Owusu said. "I'm going to learn the playbook and be a leader from the jump."

He also looks to continue to develop his faith and share it with others, and Notre Dame gives him a global platform on which to do so.

"I told the coaches, 'I want to be at the highest stage, so when I do succeed, then I can give all the glory to God and people will know that is how I got to where I am,' " Owusu said.

Yanchulis can be reached by phone at 757-298-5176.

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