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December 31, 2007

The Alex Owah sweepstakes are over

HARRISONBURG - The Alex Owah sweepstakes are over.

Owah, a junior tailback at Harrisonburg High School and the area's top Division I prospect, said Sunday he orally committed this weekend to play football for the University of Virginia.

The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Owah cannot officially sign with the Cavaliers until after his senior season, but he chose not to delay his decision.

"I wanted to get it out the way," Owah said Sunday. "I know a lot of other schools are going to recruit me 'cause I'm just a junior and some of them start your senior year, but I just wanted to get it out the way because I felt so confident that this is the school that I'm going to want to be at and this is a school that I'm going to excel at."

Owah said he received offers from U.Va., Virginia Tech and Division I-AA James Madison. Others also were interested, however, and he listed the Cavaliers, Hokies, Tennessee, Wake Forest and West Virginia as his top five choices.

Harrisonburg coach Tim Sarver said Owah also drew interest from schools as far away as California and Washington.

In the end, though, Owah decided the Cavs would be the best fit.

"I like the program and I like the coaching staff," he said. "Everyone just treats me like I'm already a part of their program, you know? I'm real close to some of the players, and academically that school is good. They graduate 97 percent of their athletes, so my dad, he likes that school also."

Another key factor in his decision was U.Va.'s proximity to home. Charlottesville is an hour from Harrisonburg, meaning Owah's family and friends will be within easy driving distance of his games at Scott Stadium.

Sarver, however, said he thought Owah should have checked out his other suitors before committing.

"Signing early has its advantages and disadvantages," Sarver said, "and obviously Alex has made his mind up about what he wants to do. I think I would have preferred that he would have visited a few more schools so he could have looked around and shopped around a little bit, but once you feel that a school's right - and obviously he feels that U.Va.'s the right school for him - he obviously has made a choice."

Owah, who told the Daily News-Record last week that he intended to make his announcement public close to February's national signing day (even though he won't officially be allowed to sign until 2009), said the news began to leak out after a phone conversation Saturday with Virginia coach Al Groh, who is in Jacksonville preparing his team for Tuesday's Gator Bowl game with Texas Tech.

"As soon as I got off the phone with him - five or 10 minutes later - Rivals called me, and then the Charlottesville paper, then Roanoke," Owah said. "That's when everyone just started calling me."

As far as area recruits go, Owah has emerged as the central Shenandoah Valley's best in several years. He led the area with 1,795 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns last year, earning Massanutten District Offensive Player of the Year honors and guiding the Streaks into the Region III semifinals.

Owah burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 2006, tallying an area-best 1,869 yards and 28 touchdowns. By then, he was already on U.Va.'s radar, Sarver said.

"It's been I think since his ninth-grade year that people realized he was going to be a Division I-type ballplayer," he said. "His speed is something that not many young men have, so I'm sure that's a big factor."

According to a national high school combine Owah attended last summer, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds.

In three regular seasons at HHS - he played sparingly as a freshman - Owah has rushed for 3,774 yards while accounting for 51 touchdowns. With a year left in his high school career, he's run for more than 100 yards in 22 of his 24 starts.

If Owah's hopes come true, he won't be the only member of his family at U.Va. Owah said he would like to get a chance to play at Virginia with his brother Tony, a defensive back at Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y., a postgraduate program that churns out D-I recruits.

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