Several years ago, when Josh McCown was playing quarterback for the New York Jets, his son, Owen, was on the field during pregame warm-ups.
Owen walked over to meet the Jets’ receivers coach, Karl Dorrell.
“He was sitting on the heated benches and I went up to him and shook his hand,” Owen said. “It was obviously a while back. He just raved about how big my hands were.”
Dorrell and Owen didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the first meeting in what could be a very good partnership in years to come.
Dorrell is entering his second year as head coach at Colorado, while Owen is a high school senior with a verbal commitment to play quarterback for the Buffaloes in 2022.
When they spoke again on the recruiting trail last year, Owen forgot that he had already met Dorrell – but Dorrell didn’t forget.
“He was like, ‘Do you remember me?’” Owen said. “It clicked and I remembered him.”
It’s not a coincidence that Owen, a senior-to-be at Rusk (Texas.) High School picked Colorado. Josh McCown, who played his 19th NFL season in 2020, spent two years with Dorrell in New York, as well as part of an offseason in Miami in 2008, and is thrilled to know his son will play for him, too.
“It got me excited, just because I have worked with (Dorrell) and I know what kind of man he is,” Josh said. “That’s where it starts for me, more than anything, just his character and integrity of who he is, as a person. The game of football needs men like Karl Dorrell leading programs.
“For me, I couldn’t think of a better place for my son to play than to be led by him. He’s not only going to be around a good man that has high character, but Karl Dorrell knows a ton of football, he’s been around a lot of high-level football, and he knows how to lead a program.”
Josh said he let Owen, a three-star recruit with 10 scholarship offers, make his own choice, but added, “I was secretly excited that Karl was recruiting him. I couldn’t be more thrilled that he’s gonna get to get to play for Karl.”
The opportunity to play for Dorrell at CU is available to Owen not because of his father, but because of the work he has put into the game.
“Once he conquers something or feels like he’s got that portion of his game better, it’s like, ‘OK, what’s next? How can I be better?’” Josh said. “As, obviously, a young player, there’s a wide allotment of things that you can work on, but that’s what I’d say about him is he’s got a relentless work ethic that he’s always trying to pursue something in his game that he can improve. And he doesn’t let himself kind of level off. That’s probably one of the biggest pluses and hopefully, that continues.”
Certainly, Owen’s love of the game began from growing up around it. Josh is a 19-year NFL veteran, and Owen’s uncle, Luke, played quarterback for 14 years in the league.
Josh never pushed his sons – Owen and Aiden, a junior-to-be at Rusk – to be quarterbacks or even play the game, but the boys followed in dad’s footsteps.
“We just grew up around it,” Owen said. “I remember when as a kid, after the games, we would run down on the railing and he pulled us over the thing to walk on the field with him and we just grew up around it. I think it’s just kind of evolved, like that whole want to be like dad thing.”
Throughout the boys’ childhood, Josh has aimed for a balance between encouraging the boys and not guiding every step.
“There’s negatives and positives about growing up in the household of a professional athlete,” Josh said. “One of those positives, I think, is just that you get to see it done at the highest level and what it takes to maintain at the highest level, and he’s certainly seen that. But, he has to do the work.
“As parents, you can only take your kids so far; you can only show them so much. If they don’t do the work, you can’t do it for him. … I think that’s what I’m most proud of is that he does the work. He’s seen what it takes, but then he goes, ‘Okay, I need to do the work myself.’”
Josh has a rule that he will only throw with the boys if they ask him because he wants them to do a lot of work on their own.
“To their credit, they get me off the couch quite a bit,” Josh said. “But, there’s days when they want to go and they want to do it on their own and it’s good. I like to see those days because I think along this journey in life, some of the best moments that you have are when you go and forge your own way and you figure it out yourself.”
Last year was a turning point for Owen, who is now 6-foot-1, 175 pounds and, he said, likely to still add some height. Last summer, the McCown family moved from North Carolina to Rusk, not far from Josh’s hometown of Jacksonville, Texas.
At Myers Park (N.C.) High School, Owen was a backup to Drake Maye, a four-star prospect who enrolled at North Carolina in January. After moving to Rusk, Owen became the starting quarterback and got his first extensive action at the varsity level. He threw for 1,080 yards and nine touchdowns, added 270 yards and eight touchdowns as a runner, and opened the eyes of recruiters, including at CU.
Owen, however, knows his work is far from done.
“I’ve always looked at it as I think every aspect of a quarterback, nobody’s perfect,” said Owen, who, unlike his father, throws left-handed. “I’m trying to get better, my footwork is getting better. I’m trying to be more accurate, know the game more, study more, obviously, throw more; just improve strength, stuff like that.”
Josh said his son is “very accurate with the football” but is mainly impressed by one trait that he believes all good quarterbacks must possess.
“The way he’s wired and built, he throws his best balls when the pocket’s the tightest,” Josh said. “It’s something that I’m envious of; I’m like, ‘Man, I wish I could do it that good.’ That would be to me his biggest strength.
“There’s traits that you can give or take, but I think we all need to have that. That’s part and parcel to playing the position as best you can. I’ve been really, really pleased to see that out of him more than anything.”
Like every quarterback, however, Owen is still developing as a leader.
“I would say that’s the biggest thing to work on is just, it’s an evolving thing of understanding the ins and outs of leadership and how important it is,” Josh said.
Owen is looking forward to continuing his development as a senior at Rusk, but is also looking forward to the next chapter when he can work with Dorrell, quarterbacks coach Danny Langsdorf, and his CU teammates on a daily basis.
“It was kind of just everything I was looking for in a college,” said Owen, who plans to play basketball as a senior with his brother and enroll at CU next summer. “I think it started, obviously with the football stuff and my dad having a relationship with coach Dorrell. I’ve only heard great things about him from not only an actual coaching standpoint but just as a person. He’s a great leader. And then I think their style of offense was definitely unique and definitely fit what I was looking for. … We got to visit campus before I committed and I just fell in love.”