Chargers rookie Luke Powell sees clearly

Diminutive he may be. Short on excitement he is not. San Diego Chargers undrafted rookie Luke Powell has already made a name for himself to the fans in San Diego. The fans showered Powell with applause during mini-camp weekend for his skills as a receiver but it may be his kick returning abilities that garner the most interest from the coaching staff.

In 2001, Luke Powell was a First-Team All-American at the return spot after averaging 16.0 yards per punt return, second best in the nation. One year later, injuries haunted the mighty mite. An ankle injury hampered Powell all season and perhaps his confidence never regained its luster.

Powell has recorded 47 punt returns for 533 yards and one touchdown, putting him sixth in the Cardinal record book in punt return yards and punt return average. He has caught 83 passes in his Cardinal career for 1,560 yards and 11 touchdowns and his 18.8 yards per reception average is the fourth best all-time on The Farm. He has 16 receptions of over 30 yards in his career, three over 75 yards, two from 60-69 and two more from 50-59.

Powell is the definition of home run hitter. At 5-foot-8, Powell is known for his elusiveness, likely running through the legs of would be tacklers. His speed is not 4.3, ala Santana Moss, but he does provide a spark.

"I think I am more elusive," Powell says thoughtfully. "I think that would be my main asset. I think I have enough speed where I get behind somebody that I am not going to get taken down."

The former baseball player has heart and a solid demeanor, but is his confidence where it needs to be as he heads into a NFL training camp?

Returners are a different breed. While many of us would see the twisted contortion of movement and inevitably succumb to dizziness, someone such as Powell's vision ensures a quiet confidence. The calm before his storm.

The scene unfolds before him as he sets his feet to make the catch and when he surveys the field he is the general that aligns his troops and makes his move unhindered through enemy lines.

"I am sure it is going to be a lot different at the next level," Powell said. "Then again the athletes I have blocking for me are going to be great athletes also. A lot of it is just having faith in your teammates and having faith in your own abilities that you are going to catch the ball. You have to make a decision if you are going to fair catch it or not. A lot of it is having a feel for it. 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."

And much like the armchair quarterbacks we are colorblind to what he sees on the field.

It is that amazement that has every team looking for their own version of Dante Hall. Someone who can change the face of a game and bring a tem from the brink or get that first big play to get the crowd stirring.

It wasn't just as a returner that Powell provided highlight reel material for. He had three receptions that spanned 75-plus yards.

"One was a hitch and I broke a tackle," Powell recalled. "One was a wide receiver screen and I just cut through the defense. The other was a one step hitch and I broke a tackle and outran somebody."

But he does not hold any preconceived notions about his role. He understands where his best chance to make the team lies.

"They expect me to practice at both wide receiver and kick returner. I kind of think that playing time or making the team initially it will be because of my return abilities and then work my way into the receiver rotation."

Denis Savage can be reached at

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