SOUTH TAMPA — On NFL draft day in April, John Owens was working six phones at once.
A trial attorney with Fowler White Boggs and Banker on Kennedy Boulevard, Owens was representing half a dozen college football players as he grows his sports agent business.
Owens, 39, represents mainly nondrafted free agents, or players not selected in the seven rounds of the draft. His goal is to someday represent first-round picks, but in building his client base Owens knows he must build his own reputation before high-profile players come calling.
It requires the same tenacity and research used by NFL scouts and team executives when seeking players, including attending predraft combines and player tryouts. Owens analyzes every team's strengths, weaknesses and history with free agents. It's all part of finding the right fit for the player.
"It's a lot of work, a lot of ups and downs and uncertainties because of the draft," Owens said. "There are players that tell you one thing and do another. It's very competitive, and there's a big time and money investment.
"There are no diamonds in the rough anymore. A diamond in the rough nowadays still has 10 or 15 agents after them. But then you find that guy that not a lot of people are pursuing and soon teams start calling him in to talk with him and he gets an invite to the combine."
Last year Chandler Williams, a wide receiver out of Florida International, was invited to the combine and drafted in the seventh round by the Minnesota Vikings. He's now with the Atlanta Falcons.
"That's a euphoric moment," said Owens, who was equally pleased at having little-known South Carolina State offensive lineman James Lee receive a free agent invite from the Cleveland Browns after a strong predraft workout this year.
Owens looks for mentally tough players with a clean background who exhibit leadership on and off the field.
"Often you find that the players that make it in the NFL aren't always the most talented, but the ones who are mentally tough enough to handle the pressure of playing on an NFL team," Owens said. "The other thing we look for are players that will learn the playbook, because coaches like those guys. If you don't learn the playbook, you're gone."
Owens, who moved to Tampa after graduate school when hired by Fowler White in 1996, knows all about playbooks. He played four years at Dartmouth College as a defensive back.
He knew he wanted to remain connected to the sport he had played since his Pop Warner football days as a kid in Prospect, N.Y., a tiny town of 350 in the upper part of the state.
He became certified as an NFL agent upon graduating from Tulane University's law school.
He has kept those ties working at Fowler White for 12 years by representing athletes in their legal needs, such as helping them establish charitable foundations and providing guidance with tax and real estate issues.
Owens' courtroom work earned him a partnership with Fowler White, one of Florida's largest law firms, about six years ago.
He helped open the firm's West Palm Beach office before returning to Tampa with wife, Tanya, and their three young boys in 2005. With his caseload reduced, Owens and a high school friend began recruiting college players to help them sign with professional teams.
They represent 14 football players and one in baseball. Among them is Caleb Hanie, a strong-armed quarterback out of Colorado State many thought would be selected in this year's draft.
Hanie went undrafted. Within two hours of the draft's conclusion, though, Owens' phone was burning up with about 15 teams interested in Hanie's services. Owens had made certain of that by sending out a bio and highlight tapes of Hanie before the draft.
"A lot of NFL people will tell you that if you're going to get drafted in the sixth or seventh round, it's almost better to go undrafted and be able to pick what team you want to go with," Owens said.
Hanie, with Owens' input, chose Chicago because they felt the Bears offered his best shot at playing time in the preseason.
Hanie was contacted by a number of agents but liked Owens' low-key approach.
"He's a hard-working guy who's always available to answer any questions or get me anything I need," Hanie said.
If Owens' players get cut, he'll work to place them with the Canadian Football League or the indoor Arena League.
Client retention is key in building his business, so Owens leaves no stone unturned in attending to his players' needs.
"The satisfaction of being there when one of your players is fulfilling his dream of playing in the NFL is a lasting feeling," he said. "Every time they step on the field, you feel as though you had something to do with that."