Jerry Owens' football season was cut short last November, when the All-American receiver for Hart High suffered a broken tibia in a regular-season finale against Canyon.
The injury sidelined Owens for the Indians' Southern Section Division III title run, but he has recovered in time to play in one of the nation's premier all-star games.
Before heading off to UCLA, Owens will make his final appearance as a high school athlete when California plays Texas in the 48th All-Star Shrine Football Classic at 5 p.m. today at Cerritos College.
The game, in its fifth year of the California-Texas format, will also allow him to play a final time with best friend and Hart quarterback Kyle Boller, who will attend California in the fall.
"It's going to be fun to have that one last hurrah," Owens said. "We've got almost 500 people coming up from [the Santa Clarita] Valley to watch us.
"So that's going to be another big thing, playing in front of a home crowd, almost. Having them watch us grow up together, and then having us play in one final game."
The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Owens spent the last two years as the go-to guy at Hart, catching 126 passes for 2,797 yards and 29 touchdowns. He will most likely assume a different role early in his career at UCLA.
Owens joins one of the nation's top receiving corps, anchored by returning starters Danny Farmer, a senior, and Brian Poli-Dixon, a junior.
Senior Brad Melsby and sophomore Freddie Mitchell return and are next on the depth chart, leaving Owens and a handful of other receivers contending for playing time.
"I'm going to go in there and try and win a [playing] spot," Owens said. "I know the chances are slim, but I'm going to go in there with an open mind."
One determining factor will be how Owens adapts to UCLA's offense.
"I'd say the biggest thing is learning the system," UCLA receivers coach Ron Caragher said. "In Jerry's case, he's talented and has good size and speed and hands, but the question will be can he learn our offensive system?
"He's got some guys he can learn a great deal from, like Farmer and Melsby, guys that know our offense and footwork. He's really stepping in at a good time to be able to learn from those guys."
Although he could be a redshirt his first season, Owens can gain advice from former Hart teammate Cody Joyce, a sophomore receiver at UCLA who was a redshirt his freshman year.
Joyce, who set a Hart school record for receiving yards in a season, caught only one pass for six yards last year at UCLA.
But Gary Bernardi, the Bruins' tight ends and offensive line coach, said Joyce had a good spring camp and enhanced his chances of playing more next season.
If Owens is a redshirt, he would join seven of the nine receivers on the Bruins' depth chart, including Farmer, who were redshirts their freshman year.
"Jerry's got a chance to compete and play," said Bernardi, who helped recruit Owens. "Last year, we had seven freshmen play. I definitely think that receiver is a strength of our offense. Having Jerry will be a contributing factor.
"You never know [about redshirts]. Each situation is different. I don't think anything is wrong with redshirting. It depends how things piece together. We don't go into it saying Player A will redshirt and Player B will play."
Owens hopes to make a contribution his freshman season. He is taking a summer class at UCLA so he can participate in informal practices held by players before official practices begin in early August.
If coaches decide to redshirt Owens, he'll take it in stride.
"I'll be learning from the best in the nation," Owens said. "I'd rather go in and learn instead of jumping in and getting a lot of pressure. I'm taking the approach that I'm learning from the best and I'll use it when I get my chance."
Seventy-two of the top high school players from California and Texas are on Shrine rosters, including eight who will join Owens at UCLA. The players spent a week in San Juan Capistrano practicing and took various trips, including a visit to Shriners Hospital for Children in Los Angeles last Tuesday.
"It just makes me realize how fortunate all of us really are to be able to even walk, let alone play football," Owens said. "Because some of these kids that come in here, can't do stuff like that.
"It's a great honor to play in this game and help raise money for these kids."