Ole Miss’ Powe continues eligibility fight with NCAA as he climbs depth chart

Published 11:25 pm Saturday, August 18, 2007

Everything’s coming easy now that Jerrell Powe is finally on the practice field at Mississippi.

He was elevated to first-team nose tackle by coach Ed Orgeron after just a few workouts. And at media day in his first meeting with the press, he charmed a nonstop series of questioners for an hour as if he was deftly shedding blockers on his way to a sack.

He mixed thoughtful answers to painful questions about his academic struggles with the occasional joke. When asked why he didn’t just enroll in a junior college and abandon his quest over the last two years to qualify to play at Ole Miss, Powe displayed his impish smile.

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“I wanted to play for coach O,” Powe said. “But I didn’t know practice was going to be this hard.”

If only his fight with the NCAA was so effortless.

Twice college sport’s governing body has barred the Wayne County High School graduate from playing at Ole Miss. He’s now practicing under a special provision that expires Wednesday while he waits to hear if the NCAA will block him a third time.

Staff members at the NCAA’s Initial-Eligibility Clearinghouse are studying more than 35 pounds of documents and workbooks they’ve requested from Powe to see if he met eligibility requirements.

An NCAA spokesman said a decision could come as soon as next week, though he cautioned that Powe’s case is complicated and could take longer to sort out.

Attorney Don Jackson believes Powe has satisfied all the requirements to play this season. If the NCAA rules against Powe, the player likely will sue the NCAA, asking the federal courts to stop it from discriminating against athletes with learning disabilities.

“This particular case is about a lot more than Jerrell Powe,” Jackson said. “Jerrell Powe is the face unfortunately. It’s really about all of the young people who are anonymous who are not Parade All-American football players.”

After initially denying Powe eligibility in 2005 because he had not completed the 14 core high school courses required to compete in college sports, the NCAA accused Powe of receiving too much help in his quest to qualify last year. The NCAA even put out a news release in September that cast a shadow over Powe’s academic work after graduation.

“The NCAA stressed it is concerned about Mr. Powe’s long-term well-being and that he has not yet demonstrated he can successfully manage the demands of full-time college academics and intercollegiate athletics,” the statement said. “Among its concerns, the group noted there was insufficient information provided to the NCAA to determine that Mr. Powe completed the work on his own without significant assistance.”

Powe has dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. Under federal law, teachers must accommodate his disabilities. Jackson said teachers never offered more help than is required by law and the NCAA is violating the Americans With Disabilities Act.

“What it really gets down to is an absolute ignorance of their responsibilities under federal law,” Jackson said.

NCAA spokesman Bob Williams said staffers waited 1-1/2 weeks for the most recent round of documents that arrived Friday and are moving as quickly as possible to rule on Powe’s case. He denied the accusation that the NCAA is violating federal law and said delays in receiving paperwork, not processing it, have slowed the decision.

“There’s been a lot of accusations about the NCAA stalling and not rendering a decision quickly on this,” Williams said. “The fact is we need all information before we can make a decision.”

In the two years since graduating from Wayne County, Powe, 20, has attended two prep schools, returned to his high school, taken correspondence courses and even worked as a jailer for a short time in the Wayne County.

“I seen a guy get that Taser,” Powe said. “They had to snatch him out the cell because he didn’t want to take showers. That was a lot of excitement.”

Powe’s appearance on the Ole Miss campus has generated a lot of excitement, too.

Orgeron, a former defensive lineman who coached the lines at Miami and Southern Cal, believes the 6-foot-2, 330-pound tackle is a future star who should be looked up to for his fight to join the Rebels.

Powe has the bulk needed to be a force inside, but has the quick hands and nimble feet of a basketball player who averaged 10 points and 10 rebounds in high school.

Most scouting services ranked Powe as among the top-three defensive lineman in the nation and the state’s top prospect coming out of high school. He had 37 career sacks for Wayne County and 89 tackles, nine sacks and five forced fumbles in his senior season alone.

Orgeron said Powe reminds him of Cortez Kennedy, the seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle with the Seattle Seahawks who played for the coach at Miami.

“(Kennedy) was quick and had girth and power,” Orgeron said. “He was a great young man who loved to play. Jerrell Powe reminds me a lot of him. Jerrell is a little bit heavier than Cortez was when he came in, but he has the quickness and attributes Cortez had.”

Powe said he hasn’t had time to do football drills or much conditioning on his own while completing coursework. But his new teammates said it’s no surprise he’s fitting in so quickly.

“If it’s in you, it’s in you,” linemate Peria Jerry said.

Powe said published reports that he can’t read and other public barbs stung. But the pain was worth it.

“That was hard for me to deal with knowing that I wasn’t qualified,” Powe said. “You had guys who wanted to see me fail. Seeing that in the paper that I couldn’t read kind of made life hard. But it turned out for the best.”