Perhaps burdened by the high expectations he placed on himself as well as the feeling that he was doing enough to help the team, Powell considered walking away from his football career. A popular interview subject because of his willingness to offer an opinion on anything, OSU’s starting safety has no qualms about discussing the rough start to his college career.
“I had some doubts about being here in the first place, I can honestly admit that,” Powell said. “But what happened is I had a serious conversation with my mentor and high school head coach about what I was going through and he reminded me why I came here in the first place.”
The man on the other end of the line was Beford (Ohio) High School head coach Sean Williams, who estimated that the conversation took place with about three games left in the 2012 season when Powell was certain to redshirt.
“We talked on the phone for hours,” Williams told BSB. “How Tyvis got there was hard work. He’s a true Ohio kid. He’s a hard-working, blue-collar guy. He has some talent, but he’s a kid who works for his talent. Some kids are naturally blessed and they can do things naturally. He picks things up fast, but he’s not a freakish athlete.
“When he got down to Ohio State, he started doing what everyone else was doing. He wasn’t doing anything extra. I told him, ‘You’re not built like that. You weren’t made like that. You have to do what got you there and do extra work.’ ”
6-3 With Grades
How Powell ended up at Ohio State is itself an incredible story.
The youngest of three children, Powell has always had the carefree, happy disposition that shines through during interviews. While some athletes seek out sports as an outlet for anger or aggression, that was never necessary with Powell.
“Tyvis is the baby out of his siblings,” his mother Robin told BSB. “He has an older sister and older brother. He hardly ever got disciplined because he said he learned from them. He was always humble, and he was the peacemaker because the older ones used to argue all the time and he would always try to break it up. He’s always humble and levelheaded. If he got a new pair of shoes and his brother wore them, it was no big deal to him.”
That type of personality doesn’t scream “football player” but Powell still suited up for Bedford his first two years of high school. The first of his two attempts to leave the sport came after that sophomore season, when the Bearcats underwent a coaching change that put Williams in charge.
Williams was trying to get to know the team he inherited when the player wearing the No. 85 jersey caught his eye on film. He asked around, only to find out that Powell had no plans to play football next season.
His attempts to bring Powell back to the gridiron ramped up when he learned of the high schooler’s success in the classroom. He had the perfect combination of size and grades that Williams seeks out when looking for players capable of developing into college-level recruits.
“I always told our kids that if you want to get to college, if you want get to Ohio State or Michigan State, you have to meet the measurables and do certain things as a player and a person and have the grades,” Williams told BSB. “Well when I met Tyvis they said, ‘He’s 6-3 and has grades.’ So I called him 6-3 With Grades – that was my nickname for him. If he’s 6-3 and has grades, he’s out of here, man. You don’t see a kid like this everywhere.”
Powell joined the team and put together some impressive performances in his junior season. He took an unofficial visit to Ohio State to see the Buckeyes take on the Nittany Lions – a 38-14 win for OSU on Nov. 13, 2010.
He came armed with a secret weapon, hoping to make an impact on Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel.
“I tell my players all the time that when you go somewhere, you need to have your résumé with you,” Williams said. “And your résumé is your report card and your transcript, so have those things with you. You can say who you are, but nothing says who you are more than what you are on paper. If you ever really get to talk to Tyvis, he’s a kid who remembers everything.
“So we go to Ohio State and Coach Tressel comes walking up to meet the kids at the table. So Tyvis stands up real fast and says, ‘Sir, before I shake your hand, I want you to see this,’ and hands Jim Tressel his report card and transcript. Coach Tressel said it was the first time anyone had ever done that. He yelled across the room to his wife to ask her to come see it.”
Paying The Price
The visit to Ohio State told Williams for sure that the Buckeyes were the only place for Powell. At that point, he knew what he had to do to help his star pupil try to achieve his goal.
Powell called him at the end of the season saying that he’d do anything it took to be a Buckeye. Knowing what he had in mind, Williams pitched a plan of unforgiving early morning workouts with no days off.
“I would offer this to every student-athlete I coached,” Williams said. “I’d tell them that if you’re willing to put in the work, I’m willing to put in the work with you to get you wherever you need to go. Ultimately, it’s going to be up to you. Most kids are not willing to put in the work, but they’ll do the talking and say they want it. They wont do the work to get themselves there.”
At the end of his phone call with Powell, he told the junior that they’d start in the next morning. At 6 a.m. Powell was instructed to be at the school at 5:30 a.m. dressed and ready to go.
To Williams’ surprise, Powell was waiting for him in the Bedford High School parking lot that next morning. And the one after that, and the one after that. The high school coach lost bet after bet with his wife, thinking each day that surely this would be the morning he didn’t receive a wake-up call from a teenager. Each day, he was wrong.
They worked out on Thanksgiving, doing football drills while the rest of the country watched football. Williams told Powell he had a special present planned for Christmas Eve, which he delivered via a 5:15 a.m. phone call. It was – surprise! – another trip to the Bedford football field to make himself better.
He pushed Powell not knowing how he would respond. Williams knew his workouts would get his player the scholarship offer he coveted, but he also knew they would make a sane person quit.
“I was trying to make him quit,” Williams said. “I made it so hard that I thought he wouldn’t come back the next day. I told my wife it would only last about two weeks. A year and a half later we were still going.”
It amazed even his mother, who said her son would rise each day before the rest of the family. She would know he was going back for more when she woke up to the sound of the door closing. The schedule affected everyone else who lived with him, too. Holiday workouts meant trips were simply out the question. He also got his own house key since he would walk to the school on his own in the morning.
“We put everything on hold because we weren’t able to go on vacations anymore,” she said with a laugh. “We didn’t do anything for holidays anymore because he was always working out. Literally, he would get up like clockwork, always at 5 in the morning. I would just hear the door close. He would walk to the high school.
“He was always gone but it was nothing I ever had to worry about because he was always at the school. It was like he lived at Bedford. He just really became very focused.”
Perhaps the most amazing part of his immersion into a workout warrior was that he’d never been a morning person prior to that first workout. Amazed at how her son was able to suddenly start waking up at 5 a.m., Robin went out of the way to ask him how he was able to do it.
As it turns out, he simply willed his way through it.
“I would ask him how he was doing it,” she said. “And he was like, ‘Mom, when the alarm clock goes off, don’t think about it. Don’t hit the snooze button. Just get up and sit on the end of the bed.’ He was not an early riser before then.”
Living The Dream
When the offer came, there was no other choice for Powell. There were other hats on the table when he chose OSU on June 1, 2011, but he was never going to end up anywhere but Columbus once the scholarship opened up.
Official visits to other schools were out of the question, even though Williams joked that Powell was depriving his mother of four free vacations via airplane trips. His senior year, Powell wore Ohio State cleats with red gloves. The apparel combined with Bedford’s green-and-white uniform to give Powell a Christmas tree look.
Not even the recent resignation of Tressel could keep him from signing up to play for the Buckeyes. In an interview on Oct. 27, Powell said he would have passed up other scholarships and walked on at Ohio State if the OSU scholarship offer never came. A rarity these days, Powell said he truly was committing to a school instead of a coach.
“You’re not going to give up your dreams no matter who is the coach,” he said. “You grow up your whole life and watch one certain team and you root for this team all your life, that’s where you want to go. Your heart is always going to be with that team. The only place I felt like I would give 100 percent effort all the time would be here. For me to go away, although some stuff might be happening, it just wouldn’t have felt right with me. I would have lost sleep at night knowing I missed out on an opportunity to come here.”
The talk with Williams at the end of his freshman year reminded him that he needed to get back to doing what he did in high school – namely, working harder than all of his teammates. Once he did that, the results followed. He will live in Ohio State lore forever thanks to his play in the Michigan game last season.
In the stands at Michigan Stadium, the scene as Michigan lined up for a two-point conversion only increased the stress level of his family members.
“The game was so intense for us because the thought of losing to Michigan was just unbearable,” his mom said. “Something told me that something was about to happen. I sat down. I couldn’t take it. Everybody else was standing, and I had to sit down because I was that messed up about the whole thing. I heard the play, and all I heard was my kids saying, ‘Mom! Tyvis! Tyvis!’ We were jumping up and down. It was an amazing moment.”
The play that caused the excitement, Powell’s game-saving interception of Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, helped Powell fulfill Williams’ instructions to him in a pre-game text.
“My text message to him before the Michigan game was, ‘Make sure they know your name. When you walk off this field, make sure the United States of America knows who Tyvis Powell is,’ ” Williams said.
Powell gave his mother the gold pants charm he earned by beating Michigan. All he wants out of his famous play is a mention in the next documentary of the famous rivalry.
“I hope I make the HBO series when they remake it,” he said with a laugh.
Thanks to two conversations with his high school coach and an impossible amount of work, he’s where he wants to be with plenty of time left to add to his legend.