“Honestly, I’m just trying to get Special Teams Player of the Year.”
Powell is the prohibitive favorite after he won the Trojans’ honor last season. He had 13 tackles, including two for a loss and one sack on the year. Powell could also be used more as a backup to All-American candidate Su’a Cravens if the coaches follow through with their intention of platooning all the defenders to make sure starters are fresh at the end of games.
“We have a lot of great players and whatever role they put me at, I’m ready to play,” Powell said. “But my No. 1 goal of the year is to win Special Teams Player of the Year.”
Powell and sophomore Uchenna Nwosu are currently backing up Cravens at the SAM linebacker position. All three returners at the position bring different capabilities. Powell brings speed off the edge and experience having seen time the last two years.
However, he is a better player when attacking the line of scrimmage rather than retreating from it. Nwosu and Cravens, in contrast, are both converted high school safeties with more experience tracking and chasing after receivers.
Powell has good instincts, but doesn’t have the ideal body for a 3-4 defense and the position he is playing. He has struggled to put on weight the coaching staff thinks he needs to be able to hold his ground in setting the edge against outside rushing attacks.
While Nwosu has been able to bulk up with added weight to the 210-pound frame he brought when enrolling at USC, putting him closer to 240 pounds than the 210 he is still listed as, it’s been a constant battle to add pounds for Powell.
“I eat a lot…a lot. It’s just that my metabolism is crazy,” Powell said. “My metabolism is very fast, so if I don’t eat for like two seconds, [my weight is] going to drop.”
That’s exactly what happened recently when Powell was sidelined during the first week of fall camp with a concussion.
“I had to go to the hospital and I was there for multiple hours and I ended up dropping a lot of weight because I wasn’t able to eat after practice like usual.”
The offseason gains Powell had made, which he said were good even though his weight was constantly fluctuating up and down, were negated after the concussion sent him out of commission. Powell, who is listed at 205 pounds, said he’s back up to 201 and thinks it will continue to rise.
He’s hoping to push himself into the 210-215 pound range so that he’s able to maintain his speed while also having the capabilities to take on a 350-pound pulling guard in the run game.
Besides affecting his weight gains, the concussion made it hard for Powell to keep up with his peers on the field and learn in film study. He had light-sensitivity issues that forced him to not attend one practice during the day. Concentrating was also difficult early in the recovery process.
“Being out for that long and not doing anything, not even putting on my pads was an experience that I didn’t go through at all since I’ve been here. I had to learn how to deal with that,” Powell said. “It was very difficult [to learn] when it first happened, but you’ve got to fight through it. I learned a lot just sitting there watching.”
Powell has used that knowledge to his advantage since being cleared. He’s flying around the ball and seems to always be in the right position to make a play on a ballcarrier. Powell continues to be a solid tackler in the open field, which is what makes him such a strong asset on special teams coverage units.
Though he won’t unseat the incumbent Cravens, Powell has showcased a skill set that is worthy of additional opportunities and perhaps an even loftier goal than his repeat Special Teams Player of the Year objective.