Julian Charles entered his matchup against Terrell Owens with a very specific game plan.
“Don’t let him catch a single pass,” Charles said of his strategy against a player he called one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game. “I did a pretty good job with that throughout the whole game. But you know, he got him one. You throw it to a dog 100 times, he's bound to catch one.”
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For 39 minutes and 59 seconds of a 40-minute game, Charles and his teammates didn’t let Owens catch a pass during his Fan Controlled Football debut.
That changed on the game’s final play as the 48-year-old Owens, guarded by the 24-year-old Charles, hauled in a touchdown pass as time expired. The video of T.O.’s TD went viral as it was tweeted everywhere from SportsCenter to Sports Illustrated.
“Yeah, it was kind of was disappointing,” Charles said. “But I mean, this stuff happens. Even the greatest corners in the league get caught on by certain receivers. But it was fun. I discussed with some of my teammates, I was like, ‘I know Terrell Owens' first catch is gonna be going viral, so don't let it be you.’ And then it just so happened it was me. But like I said, I had fun competing against him and I'll get another opportunity to shut him down.”
Attempting to shut down a Hall of Famer was a welcomed challenge by Charles, a 24-year-old defensive back who played at Mississippi College. Like Owens, who last played in the NFL in 2010, Charles was making his FCF debut after what had been a lengthy absence from football. Charles had been away for the game for five years before opportunity presented itself in FCF, a professional league where fans call their team's offensive plays.
When Charles' defensive unit, known as the “Hitmen,” was selected by the Shoudla Been Stars in the first FCF draft, it set the stage for a Week 1 primetime matchup against Owens and the Zappers. That led to discussions between Charles and his roommate, fellow Zappers defensive back Isaiah Edwards, about defending Owens, who has the third-most receiving yards in NFL history.
“We kind of discussed who was gonna guard him first,” Charles said. “And I was like, ‘I get first dibs on it and then you take it from there.’
“So, to come in my first game back to be going up against a Hall of Famer was really exciting for me and I was ready for the challenge.”
Charles was tested early as T.O. was targeted five times on the opening drive.
“I really wanted to showcase my talent and really see where I stacked up against a Hall of Fame receiver,” Charles said. “The game plan was pretty simple, played a couple man, played some zone. But I told coach I wanted to go man the whole game.”
Charles had a man-up opportunity against Owens after the Zappers scored their first touchdown. With no kicking in FCF, teams get an opportunity to earn two points after a touchdown by having a wide receiver go one-on-one against a defensive back from the 5-yard line, with no one else on the field but the quarterback, who has three seconds to throw the ball. On a fade pass over the top, Owens got his hands on the ball before Charles managed to strip it and deny T.O. the catch.
Charles celebrated his defensive stop and let Owens hear about it.
“I'm gonna try to keep it PG,” Charles said when asked what he told Owens after the play. “I just said, ‘It’s gonna be a long night for you, so be ready.’ I knew once I went in there in the one-on-one, I kind of knew it was going to be a fade, they were gonna try to go over the top on me. So, I told myself that I was going to play his hand, play his body, not look back so I won’t get mossed on by Terrell Owens and go viral with that play. But I did a good job of stripping the ball out at the end.”
It was one of the highlights of the day for Charles, who was not yet born when Owens made his NFL debut in 1996. Although Owens was limited to one catch in his first game, Charles came away impressed by T.O. and his strength.
“He's a strong guy," Charles said. "For him to be that old and still be fit is amazing. It's unreal. So, all I tell everybody is stay focused, stay locked in. It's a big moment to put yourself on notice as well because he's gonna bring a lot of eyes to this league. Gets hands on him and play ball. Play your game.”
Owens is hoping to play the game at the highest level by returning to the NFL. With Charles now having first-hand experience against him, does he think T.O. still has the ability to make a comeback at 48 years old?
“Oh yeah, for sure,” Charles said. “Like I said, he's still fit. He's still strong. When I got hands on him, he blocked me one time, I felt the strength in him, I'm like, God, this guy is old but he's still kind of got it.”
But Charles got the win, with the Stars defeating the Zappers by a score of 20-12. He also got the opportunity to showcase his skills in front of a large audience and a story to one day tell his kids and grandkids about the time he defended Terrell Owens.
Said Charles: "I'm gonna tell them I held a Hall of Famer to one catch and one touchdown throughout a whole football game.”
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