Big Play Ability Defines Luke Powell

Big play ability. It is a craving that must be satiated by NFL teams. They are looking for the next guy who can break into the open field and never get caught. Having that kind of ability from the wide receiver or kick returner position is almost a luxury. So when you have had four plays that have traversed 75 plus yards during a college career, you will get noticed. That is the resume Luke Powell brings to camp, an undrafted free agent signed by the San Diego Chargers after the draft.

Athletes come in many sizes. On the football field there is a prototypical dimension that every NFL team expects from their wide receivers. Luke Powell is anything but that mold. His platform shoes place his height at 5-8, but get him into the open field and he will duck your tackle, go through legs, or run around you.

Powell was a First Team All-American as a returner in 2001. That year he averaged 16.0 yards per return, second best in the nation. Then injuries hit and Powell had to fight to regain his confidence and never quite hit his stride.

Powell made the leap into football after struggling between careers. He was a baseball player that professes it as his first love. A two sport star had to make a choice and he chose the game that came so naturally to him.

“Baseball,” Powell said with a pause, “I had to work at that and football came naturally. Baseball is my first love and the first sport I played. I miss it now. Sometimes I say if I could go back I would learn how to switch-hit and play baseball.

For a guy who is in an NFL training camp that is a surprising revelation.

“It is a lot easier on your body and guaranteed contracts – they help out,“ Powell says honestly.

But, as Powell admitted, football comes naturally.

And there is something to be said about being in the midst of contact and throwing your body around with reckless abandon. It is what most boys did growing up. Where would we be without the scars that define us?

“Football – just the physical aspect of football and being able to take your frustrations out on somebody else,” Powell says with a sly grin. “In baseball, you really aren’t able to do that unless you are a pitcher or have the rare opportunity to run over the catcher or shortstop to break up a double play. In football you have the opportunity nearly every play!”

So here is Powell, toting an imposing 5-8 figure and weighing in at 175 pounds and he gets a thrill out of banging with players who average 50 pounds more than him.

Powell is on the practice field these days in Murphy Canyon. With baseball no longer on his mind, he is setting out to make the San Diego Chargers squad.

Fond memories of San Diego brought him down the road from his Stanford habitat. Family and friends were just one of the reasons that made the Chargers so appealing.

“It is a beautiful city, great weather and I think the opportunity to play for Coach Schottenheimer who been around the NFL for a long time, I am sure I can learn a lot from him. Coach Lofton – it was a great opportunity.”

And the team believes they have a kid who loves to take a hit, will bounce back up from the camp beatings and turn in a couple of big plays. He may not have the typical frame, but he does have the elusiveness in the open field and the ability to turn a two-yard loss into six points.

There are some things that just can’t be taught.

“A lot of it is having a feel for it,” says Powell. “I have tried to relay that to a lot of the younger guys at Stanford. It is kind of hard. You just have to have a feel for what’s in front of you and being able to see peripherally – different color shirts.”

He may like the contact, but the object of his affection comes at the end of the play when he is being tackled by his teammates in the end zone.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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