An undrafted rookie free agent who was has been cut three times in four years in the NFL and who had multiple concussions during his collegiate career – injuries that were supposed to end his career entirely – Chris Owusu sits in the Jets locker room with one intriguing story.
As anyone who saw his circus catch on Sunday in a 30-24 loss to the Vikings, the word ‘quit’ is not in the Owusu family vocabulary.The son of immigrant parents, he comes from a remarkable family unit that is a testament to a country that still provides a chance to those who come looking for opportunities. All told, there are fiveOwusu children, born of a mother Luaiva who is Samoan and Francis, the father from Ghana. As a former standout wide receiver at Stanford, the Jets wide receiver is far from the only star athlete in his family.
His sister Crystal plays on the women’s basketball team at Columbia in New York City. Brother Francis is following his footsteps at Stanford as a wide receiver and another brother, Michael, played defensive back at Harvard where he was an All-Ivy League selection on multiple occasions. And then there is the fifth who is still in high school, with Chris promising that “he will be allowed to go his own way, make his own path.” But he will be successful, he says.
The family is grounded at the top by the parents. Both are highly educated; Luaiva is a nurse and Francis is successful in business. They met in southern California at a food store, two immigrants pursuing the American dream. The Jets wide receiver calls them “extremely hard workers, they are extremely strong in their faith. They passed that on to us.”
Always close-knit, to this day all in the Owusu clan remain in touch on a regular basis, even as they are spread across the country. They were all home-bodies and found that they made each other their best friends.
“My dad always said that ‘You guys to have that because there is no one else around.’ Every time he calls, every time we talk, don’t forget to call. To call your mom, call your brother,” Chris said. “Don’t forget them.”
Being immigrants and highly motivated to pursue academics, the Owusu children were never concerned about being popular. Instead, their focus was on academics although they were always encouraged to pursue passions on the athletic field as well. For Chris, this meant three sports including track where he set the Ventura County record in high school for the 100 meters.
Because they lacked a support network in terms of an extended family, the Owusus were entirely dependent on each other. There was no grandma or grandpa nearby, no aunt or uncle to watch the children. This meant that with long hours worked by their parents that the children stayed at the high school well into the evening.
Chris joked that he was on “a first name basis with the custodians.” They turned it into a positive, creating their own homework club as they waited to get picked up.
“In high school, you had to wait your turn. After football, you’re spending all your days at high school. After practice, you’re waiting a couple hours after. Getting home at 8 P.M. or 9 P.M. Especially with three kids. You had to wait, but that kept us together,” Chris said.
“I played three sports: Football, basketball and track. We love to stay busy, my whole family. A lot of them are two or three-sport athletes. A lot of us toned it down to one sport in college but it kept us busy and active and built a work ethic – like theirs. You learn from all those things, you learn discipline and how to use your time.
“I really look at where my brothers and sister are now and I think it’s a testament to my family, a testament to them and the family as a whole. To our faith, knowing that God has a plan. When you work hard and have that behind you, you can do great things. Working hard and doing it for the right reason as well. When you do that, you have that mentality, you can buy into a dream and you can achieve. There are a lot of times you want to say ‘Man, I want to get some rest, have some fun.’ We did, we had fun together. Going out wasn’t a big thing for us. But we always looked to the future and kept that in mind with the decisions we made. Our parents made sure of that.”
He doesn’t remember a moment when the workload was too much, when he wished things would go a different direction and could go to a party with friends. Instead, academics and family were placed above all things, the upbringing of overachieving parents in evidence.
The end result is a family where two sons attended Stanford, the premier school along the West Coast. Two other children are at Ivy League institutions. The youngest, according to Chris, “is doing very well.”
It is an amazing accomplishment by the parents, immigrants who came to this country with dreams and ambitions to make a way for themselves. In turn, they’ve created a pathway for their children.
“They put us in a great position. They asked who our friends were, kind of suggesting that we have great friends because you are who you associate with,” Owusu said. “You’re going to gain those habits, those things you want to surround yourself.”