When Nick Owens wrapped up his junior year at Charlotte Christian, he had the world before him. After being a key factor in the Knights winning their second consecutive N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association baseball state title and committing to play shortstop at the next level for N.C. State, Owens had made it known that he was, as his coach Greg Simmons eagerly acknowledges, one of the best players in the state.
But the up-and-coming star will be the first to tell you that life can change in an instant.
During the 2013 Powerade State Games last summer, Owens said he began to feel “off.” His game was suffering, he was weak, sluggish and feverish and as the tournament came to a close, Owens started to throw up – and he couldn’t stop.
His parents rushed him to the emergency room where he was soon admitted to the hospital as doctors attempted to reduce his fever and limit his nausea. After dropping 25 pounds in less than two weeks with recovery nowhere in sight, Owens was transferred to Duke Medical Center.
“It was really scary,” Owens said. “I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to play baseball again and I didn’t know what was going on or what was wrong with me.”
Normally, Owens would’ve spent his summer on the baseball field getting ready for his senior season. Instead, he remained at Duke Hospital for a month hooked up to a machine that gave his body calories and nutrients, still unable to eat on his own or even leave the hospital.
It wasn’t until over two months later that Owens began to feel normal again and started to recover from what doctors said was an unknown virus. He was weak, discouraged and his baseball career had suffered from his time off the field, but as summer wrapped up and school began, he slowly started gaining weight and a normal appetite.
In the midst of his health scare, Owens wondered if he’d ever play baseball again. But he left the hospital and returned to begin his senior year more determined than ever to make the most of the talents he’s been given and now that he’s healthy again, he said it’s clear to see the light from one of the darkest times in his life.
“It for sure made me a better person,” he said. “You appreciate things more once you lose them. I think God used that experience in order to make me humble and appreciate the little things in my life, like saying ‘I love you’ to my parents. He showed me that life is a vulnerable thing and you can lose it at anytime.”
Now midway through his senior season at Christian and back on the field where he belongs, Owens said he’s healthier than ever and even better than he was before he got sick. He has a team-high 12 RBIs, six stolen bases and four doubles helping the reigning state champs to their current 15-3 record where they sit atop the conference standings.
“Honestly, I feel like I’m better now and stronger than ever,” he said. “I feel like I’m back where I need to be – where I would’ve been anyway. But I definitely appreciate the game more.”
Simmons, who’s in his 24th year at Christian, witnessed Owens’ health scare firsthand and said that it made his star shortstop come back even stronger.
And even with the unfortunate circumstances of last summer, Simmons said that Owens is one of the best players he’s ever coached – and his word means something. Since taking over the Knights program in 1992, Simmons has led the Knights to 14 CISAA titles and 11 NCISAA state titles, averaging 23 wins per season and boasting a .704 winning percentage. Last season, the Knights went 30-4 and finished as the No. 22 ranked team in the
“He’s as good a player as any I’ve ever had,” Simmons said. “Not just as a physical player but from his leadership skills, too. He’s that guy. Hopefully one day he’ll bring his kids back and I can tell them how good he was. To watch him go through what he did over the summer and not give up and to say that God has a plan through it all – not many guys could to that. It’s not easy to be in one place and backtrack but to then recover and go further than where you were. Few kids could do that like he did.”
Owens’ dexterity on the field is evident. As a freshman and sophomore he was hitting over .300 and improved that to .410 as a junior, when he was also one of the Knights captains – the only junior captain that Simmons has ever selected. He knocked in 27 RBIs and nine doubles and was arguably more dangerous with his defensive prowess in the infield.
The Knights headliner said that the best way to go out for his senior season would be with a third consecutive state championship – something that he and Simmons think could be possible with talents like N.C. State football commit Garrett Bradbury joining Josh Hall, Reece Hampton and Bailey Lewis, among others, who, alongside Owens, are key components to the Knights’ ongoing success.
“We’ve got a good nucleus of guys coming back so it’s been fun to watch them and it’s been exciting to watch new guys step into their different roles,” Simmons said. “But these seniors have been together so long – they played middle school and JV together – so the expectations are always there.
“We expect to win a state title, to compete everyday and compete with the bigger public schools we play, but our expectation is always to win. So far, we’ve done really well.”
From the way their season is progressing so far, it looks like history could repeat itself. From March 18-21, the Knights traveled to Pompano Beach, Fla. to compete in the 2014 Spring Classic against some of the top teams in the nation. Like the state championship teams of 2012 and 2013, the Knights cruised to their third consecutive tournament championship, an encouraging sign for Simmons and his team.
“They’ve done really well,” Simmons said of the Knights’ season so far. “They played extremely well in Florida, beating teams from across the country. That was big for us.”
“The seniors here, we’ve played together for so long,” Owens added. “We know each other really well and you could say that we play for each other. We’re all wanting to play our best for our teammates.”
With the memory of last summer’s scare in the past, Owens is looking to make the most of his time left at Christian before he heads to be part of the Wolfpack. Another state title would be a sweet ending to a season that at one point he didn’t think he’d be a part of.
“It’s crazy to think that after this year, it’s over,” he said. “It makes me want to give everything I’ve got – in every game, in every practice.”
“I’m just glad he’s in royal blue,” his coach added. “He’s been fun to coach and one of the best leaders we’ve had here. He’s going to be fun to watch at N.C. State. I would hate to play against him – that’s all I have to say.”