Jeremi Powell, Pinellas Park's 6-foot-2, 210-pound star, isn't just happy that colleges are interested in him. He's ecstatic. Few players are ever as thrilled to have chosen a school as the linebacker/receiver after a season in which he wondered if anyone noticed him. It has been a month, but that feeling? Still as strong as ever.
Here's a conversation John C. Cotey had with him last week:
JCC: Jeremy, this spring you have burst onto the recruiting scene. In the span of three weeks, you got your first offer and you committed to the University of Florida. Surprised?
POWELL: Yeah, I'm very surprised. I never thought this stuff could happen to a guy going to Pinellas Park.
JCC: Purdue was your first offer. Tell me about that day.
POWELL: I really didn't hear it from them. They just showed up at school. I was shocked the whole day. It was the middle of exams last semester, and Coach (Kenny Crawford) comes and gets me out of class. We took a walk. Purdue talked to me. They said they saw my highlight tape and they loved it. Boy, I couldn't believe it. It was overwhelming. It hit me hard.
JCC: Iowa State was next to offer and then Florida. The Gator offer had to be the biggest shocker.
POWELL: It was amazing. It was Saturday morning, and Coach (Crawford) calls me and tells me the Florida Gators just offered me a full ride. I was like … I was … crying. Later on that afternoon, South Carolina called, too, so it was a big day.
JCC: You didn't waste any time choosing the Gators. Why?
POWELL: I went up to Florida the next weekend, and the trip sealed it. I have lots of family up there. My mom (Kevra Grimmage) is from Gainesville and Live Oak, so that was big.
JCC: And the tour locked you in?
POWELL: Man, they showed me everything. I went up there on a Friday, stayed in a hotel. They wanted me there at 9 on Saturday morning. It was junior day, and everyone else was coming at 11. But they gave me my own little special tour. It was tight.
JCC: When did they have you?
POWELL: (Tight ends coach) Derek Lewis got me pumped. I walked inside where the crystal (national championship) trophy and the Heismans were, and he gave me this speech that gave me goose bumps. I told them you all got me. This is it.
JCC: You sound as thrilled today as you did when you made the decision to commit. Does that ever wear off?
POWELL: Man, it's funny you ask. Just a few minutes ago before I left the house, my mom came to my room and we were talking about it. No one in my family has ever been to college, and she came to my room and told me I should pray. She wanted this so bad for me and just busted into tears. I'm so happy. I'm all Gatored up right now; got the shirt on, the hat, the key chain from my girlfriend … the feeling, it just can't go away. I'm living the dream.
JCC: You had a great season last year (16 sacks), and that highlight tape is awfully impressive. You are big, strong, fast and unstoppable off the edge and look like a perfect fit at linebacker.
POWELL: Yeah, I'm going to be an outside linebacker. I play it in high school. And I like playing defensive end. I'm always in the three-point stance or standing on the line.
JCC: You posted some pretty good offensive numbers last year, too, with 45 catches.
POWELL: I don't want to be sounding big-headed, but there's schools that wanted me to be a wide receiver for them. My junior year was the most I've ever played wide receiver or running back. But once I got the hang of it, I was pretty good. But I like hitting people on defense. I love it.
JCC: Committing hasn't stopped the schools from calling. What are your future plans?
POWELL: Alabama, Tennessee, Miami all wanted me to call them. I'm just shocked that people really think I'm this good and people are starting to see it. They say it's only a verbal. I had one coach tell me the other day they think they can change my mind. I told him he's going to have to try pretty hard.
JCC: Will you make any visits?
POWELL: Yeah, I might just do that. I've never been out of the state of Florida. Tennessee wanted me up for their junior day on the 26th. I might go just to see. I've seen the Gators. I've seen USF. I've seen FSU. I'd like to see what it's like out there. But I don't want anybody mistaking. I'm not looking to change my mind. I'm committed to Florida.
JCC: You guys have some talent back next season. How much would you like to go out with a playoff game your senior season, which the Patriots haven't done since 2001?
POWELL: Yeah, man, that's it! Pinellas Park making the playoffs. That's what we're working hard to get. No one thinks of Pinellas Park. But maybe one day it'll be, "Hey, Jeremi Powell, he went to Pinellas Park, and he went to Florida." (Putting The Park on the map). That's the guy I'd like to be.
John C. Cotey can be reached at (813) 406-0530 or [email protected]