Ask head coach Rodney Cofield of the Douglass High School football team in Atlanta to describe Juan Powell’s talents and the answer may surprise and impress you.
“You know this kid they had at Louisville named Jackson,” Cofield said, referring to the Cardinals’ former Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. “You take away the arm and that’s what you’re looking at with the football in his [Powell’s] hands. You want to put the ball in his hands every play. He’s like a Michael Jordan, Seth Curry or something.”
Cofield apparently isn’t the only person impressed by Powell’s talents. Schools such as Cincinnati, Florida Atlantic, Georgia Southern, Kennasaw State, Syracuse and most recently Tennessee have extended scholarship offers to the 6-foot-1, 170-pounder.
But it was East Carolina that secured Powell’s verbal commitment, for now. Powell announced the Pirates as his college choice on March 21, making him the second prospect to join the recruiting Class of 2019.
Powell is a bit of a football prodigy, according to Cofield, who first recognized something special while watching him as an eighth grader.
“When this kid touched the ball, eight times times out of 10, and sometimes 10 out of 10, he made something special happen,” Cofield said. “He’s just got that awareness on the field. He makes things happen. He’s somebody people in our county want to come see play.”
Douglass County fans have been able to watch Powell at the varsity level since he was a freshman. He moved into the starting lineup at tailback as a varsity rookie while helping the Astros to a 6-4 finish. A year later, Powell became Douglass’s leading rusher, carrying the ball 102 times for 998 yards and 11 touchdowns to earn All-Region 6-A honors.
Cofield was facing a challenge replacing graduated three-year quarterback starter Jonathan Ford entering the 2017 season. Although not a natural quarterback, Powell became the obvious answer to fill Ford’s position.
Powell went on to lead the Astros to a 7-4 finish that included a berth in the Georgia State AA playoffs. He only completed eight of 23 passes for 213 yards and three touchdowns, but Powell piled up 1,336 yards and 14 scores on 167 carries rushing. He also contributed five receptions for 75 yards and two touchdowns, and four tackles on defense.
The performance earned Powell all-state and Region 6-A Offensive Player of the Year honors.
“We’ve had some outstanding backs here,” Cofield said. “He’s (Powell) about to shatter a lot of their records.”
Douglass High’s football tradition includes at least three former running backs who made it all the to the NFL:
- Stanley Pritchett (Douglass Class of 1992) starred at South Carolina who played nine seasons in the NFL.
- Jamal Lewis (Class of 1997), who became one of the all-time rushing leaders at Tennessee and a first-round NFL draft pick in 2000. Lewis played 10 years in the NFL and was the league’s top offensive player in 2003.
- James Davis (Class of 2005) was an All-ACC player at Clemson before spending four seasons in the NFL.
Despite his shifty offensive moves, Powell may be headed for a defensive career at ECU. Cofield said the Pirate coaching staff has talked to Powell about playing cornerback or safety.
“They said two things,” Cofield said. “At first they were talking about him at corner, then they talked to him as an athlete. But I think they like him more at corner. We spot him there some. And he’s a physical corner. He’ll knock the blank out of you.
“But I just don’t know if that would do him justice. There are not many kids who can do the things he does with the football.”
A bigger issue right now for the Pirates may be hanging onto Powell between now and the early signing period in November. Just days after Powell made his verbal commitment to ECU, Cofield said Tennessee came through with an offer.
“I can’t keep saying how special he is,” Cofield said. “They’re [ECU] going to have to do a hell of a job to sustain his mindset because he’s coming up the charts.”