Randy Walls receives James Owens Courage Award: ‘Highest honor’

Football By: Jeff Shearer

2021 James Owens Courage Award recipient Randy Walls

AUBURN, Ala. – With a tear in his eye and emotion in his voice, Randy Walls returned to the field on which he played a half-century earlier as the quarterback of Auburn’s “Amazin’s,” Shug Jordan’s 10-1 Tigers in 1972.

At his side stood Gloria Owens, the widow of Walls’ former Auburn teammate, James Owens. In ’72, Walls was a sophomore and Owens – known by teammates as “the Big O” – was a senior fullback.

“He was our offense, mostly,” said Walls Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium. “He did all blocking. He blocked linebackers and defensive ends every single play and never said a word.”

Gloria Owens and her family presented to Walls the 10th James Owens Courage Award, given annually to a current or former Auburn football player who has displayed courage in the face of adversity, distinguishing himself while contributing to the betterment of Auburn University.

“It’s very humbling,” Walls said. “I got diagnosed with cancer two months ago, and then a week later I found out about this. It’s God working in my life. I needed a pick-me-up. It’s the highest honor I’ve ever had athletically in my life, and will ever have.

“To be associated with James and what he stood for means everything to me.”

As James Owens’ health declined before his death in 2016, Walls was one of several teammates who assisted the family.

“James would be proud, and I know he’s looking down from heaven smiling, because he put it on my heart to make sure Randy received this award,” said Gloria Owens. “He’s been a friend, and he’s just been a giant. When James couldn’t do, Randy would come and do. From cutting the grass to other things. We’re proud of this young man and we wish him the best in his healing.”

File photo of 1972 Auburn quarterback Randy Walls
Randy Walls, QB of Auburn’s 1972 “Amazin’s”

“Very emotional,” said Walls, as Spirit, a retiring 25-year-old bald eagle, made one of its final pregame flights around the stadium. “I think that sums it all up.”

Nearly 50 years later, the Amazin’s remained a treasured chapter in Auburn lore. 1971 Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan and star receiver Terry Beasley had graduated to the NFL. In stepped Walls from Brundidge, Alabama. The Tigers won the “Punt, Bama Punt” Iron Bowl and beat Colorado in the Gator Bowl, finishing at No. 5 in the AP poll.

“We were one,” Walls said. “Everybody had the same goal. And if it weren’t for James, we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere we got. He was our heart and soul of our offense and nobody respected and loved anybody more than they did James.”

James Owens Courage Award winners:
2012: James Owens
2013: Zac Etheridge
2014: Lee Carpenter
2015: Shon Coleman
2016: Carl Lawson
2017: Terry Beasley
2018: Rev. Chette Williams
2019: Jawara White
2020: Brodarious Hamm
2021: Randy Walls

Georgia vs Auburn Football on Saturday, October 9, 2021 in Auburn, Ala. Anthony Hall/Auburn Athletics
Gloria Owens and her family present the 2021 James Owens Courage Award to Randy Walls

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer

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