Navy outside linebacker Josiah Powell cut in front of Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr.’s intended receiver and caught the pass at knee level.
He gathered it in and sprinted 34 yards to reach the black-and-gold checkered end zone and give the Midshipmen a 33-20 lead over the No. 6 Cougars en route to a 46-40 win on Oct. 8.
Back in Kentucky, Powell’s former Madisonville-North Hopkins football coaches celebrated in front of their respective TV sets.
“We went crazy,” line coach Chris Price said of his household. “We were running around the house, we were screaming, my little daughter’s screaming. She’s so young that she didn’t know what she was screaming for.”
Powell, who recorded 42 tackles, two interceptions and one sack in nine games (six starts) his senior year at Navy, was a three-sport athlete at North. He competed in high school football, basketball and track.
Price said he points Powell out to the kids he coaches now to show them what they are capable of.
“He was a perfect example because he’s from Madisonville,” Price said. “It’s a small town, but when you do things the right way, it doesn’t matter where you come from.”
Powell’s name appeared in national headlines after the Houston game. It was a huge upset, and Powell contributed a team season-high two interceptions, one of which was a pick-six.
He wore No. 58 on his back, the number of defensive captain and fellow senior Daniel Gonzales, who sustained a season-ending foot injury the week before.
“I can’t be sub-par out on the field when I have his number on,” Powell said he thought as the game began, “and he’s watching me, and his mom and dad and the rest of his family are out in the stands watching me and they see his number on my back, and stuff like that. So it was a lot of pressure that I felt to perform going into that game.”
Perform he did.
But just four games later, Powell broke his right leg, ending his college football career with five games left in the season.
“I was just happy I got to enjoy as much of the season as I did,” Powell said. “Because football is a game where you never know when your last play is going to be.”
Powell is set to graduate this spring and join the Marine Corps. He starts at The Basic School, basic training for Marine Corps officers, in June.
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“Josiah was an exceptional kid,” said Brock Shoulders, who was the North defensive coordinator when Powell was in high school. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of a kid watching him growing into a young man.”
Powell didn’t play outside linebacker until he went to college. In high school, he bounced around at several positions on both sides of the ball until he landed at defensive end his junior year.
“Seeing the athlete that he was, I was just excited,” Price said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, give him to me, I’ll take him right away.’ Because you normally don’t get those types of athletes as a defensive lineman or as an offensive lineman.”
Once Powell settled in, he excelled. He earned a starting spot and tallied 38 tackles his junior year. The next season he became the Maroons’ third-leading tackler (70, 23 for loss).
Then-head coach Will Weaver recognized Powell’s potential to play Division I during Powell’s junior year. Weaver took him and others in his class to college camps over the summer, talked them up to coaches, and put together highlight reels.
“Back in high school, I didn’t even know about service academies,” Powell said. “It was (Weaver) that asked me if I would be interested in going, so I have him to thank for this just as much as almost anybody.”
Powell chose Navy, and spent a year at their prep school before making his college debut on special teams against Air Force in 2013.
Fighting for time on the field, Powell said he started behind his competition at linebacker coming into Navy.
“I was the smallest one, the weakest one,” Powell said. “I wasn’t the most athletic. I wasn’t the fastest.”
He put on weight, hit the weight room hard, developed his speed and quickness.
And he learned an entirely new position.
“Sometimes that can be frustrating for a student-athlete,” Weaver said. “But Josiah always had a little something special. He had flashes of brilliance, and he just never ever would quit no matter what. He went on and had a tremendous career starting for a Division I team that ended up being in the top 20 in the country.”
During that journey, several of Powell’s high school coaches reached out to him to tell him how proud they were.
“I just really appreciated it,” Powell said, “because they probably don’t even know how much they influenced me going though high school, coming up, trying to make something of myself on the field.”