School Ties

The value of developing and maintaining ties in the recruiting game is unquestioned, and those paid off for WVU with the commitment of linebacker Omar Powell to the Mountaineer football program.

Powell is a big hitting linebacker for Shaw High School in East Cleveland, Ohio. WVU fans may recall that brothers Darryl and John Talley claim Shaw as their alma mater, but the WVU ties run even deeper than that. Another former Mountaineer linebacker, Elige Longino (1993-96), was a coach at Shaw for several seasons following his WVU career, and current head coach Bruce Coffey is a longtime Mountaineer fan as well.

"I've known about WVU and what they bring to the table," Coffey told "They are players' coaches, and I know what they are about. I'm also friends with Bob Simmons (who coached WVU's linebackers from 1980-87). My brother and Coach Simmons graduated together from Shaw, and I've known him as a long time. And I knew Coach Nehlen from when he recruited me when he was at Bowling Green, too."

Those links paid off for WVU when they received tapes of Powell, who was at a bit of a disadvantage in the recruiting game. Powell sat out his sophomore season due to academics, but a wake-up call from Coffey set him on the right track.

"When he sat out his sophomore season he sort of took on the attitude that he didn't want to play football," Coffey related. "But I told him that he was in danger of throwing it all away, and he got it together. I told him what he had to do, and he got his grades right and did it. Now, this year, he's on a mission."

That mission starts at the middle linebacker spot, where Powell patrols the field for the Cardinals. Coffey plays his senior star there because he can have the most impact from that spot, but he believes that Powell may be even better suited to outside backer, where he will likely begin his WVU career.

"He's quick enough to cover people, so I think outside is better suited for him," Coffey explained. "He has great ability to run with people, and good hands too.

"His biggest strength, though, is his hitting. He has a reckless style of play. He's just a pure hitter, no question about it. Sometimes he can overrun plays, but he is so quick, and gets to the ball fast. With his size, strength and speed, he's difficult to block."

Shaw has been playing Powell in the middle of a 3-4 set, but is moving to the 4-3 this week. He has also been playing some tailback on offense, but Coffey is trying to limit his carries there so he doesn't wear his defensive linchpin out.

"He had six or seven carries in the last game, and he's such a valuable weapon, we have to use him some," Coffey said of the decision to use him at times on offense. "Teams have to defend him because they know how good he is, so we use him as a decoy some too."

Powell (6-2, 215 lbs.), had been drawing interest from Indiana, Iowa, and Michigan State. He was at the Spartans camp this summer, but was unable to come to WVU's camp due to a conflict with the state track meet, where he anchored Shaw's 4x100 meter relay team. Although he was impressed with Iowa, Coffey encouraged him to visit West Virginia, and once Powell saw WVU during last weekend's East Carolina game, he was hooked. He did, however see some things that opened his eyes.

"When he came back, he told me 'Coach, some of the running backs are bigger than me,'" Coffey related with a laugh. "He was looking at special teams guys that were 6-4 and 240 pounds and flying around like bats. He said, 'I've got to get stronger.' He's the beast of the east around here, but he was really humbled when he came back from his visit."

Given Powell's performance in pulling up his academic performance, Coffey has no doubt that his star senior has the ability to get stronger and improve in that area as well. The second-year head coach thinks, however, that Powell is starting from a higher level than WVU's former All-American.

"Omar is ahead of where Darryl Talley was in high school at this time," Coffey said. "Darryl got a lot better when he got to college, but Omar has great potential at any of the linebacker spots."

Powell, who has not yet qualified, was recruited by Bruce Tall, who hit it off quickly with the players at Shaw.

"Coach Tall is a good individual, and a good fit for our school district and our area," Coffey said. "He talked with the kids and would say things directly to them, and they listened. He's from the Cleveland area, so they were relaxed with him. Sometimes you see the kids tense up when they talk with Division 1 coaches, but Coach Tall wasn't like that at all."

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