By Nathan Mathisen, The Seattle Medium
You’re starting the game.
Those were the words Washington defensive back Mishael Powell heard in practice days before the game against Cal on Sept. 25.
For Powell, a redshirt freshman in his third year at UW, it was finally his moment to show people that even though he’s a walk-on, he deserves to be on the field. In the game against Cal, Powell did just that with great coverage, six tackles and one forced fumble.
“How about Meesh Powell,” Washington’s head coach Jimmy Lake said in the press conference after the win against Cal. “He goes out there, makes his first start and plays solid football for us in a very impactful position. There’s a lot of defenses that we play and he was able to go out here and execute them.”
Powell redshirted his first year in 2019 and saw no game action in the limited 2020 season. This year, however, Powell got his first start of his career and those who know him aren’t surprised by his rise.
“It’s just unbelievable, but not surprising,” said Monte Kohler, Powell’s head coach at O’Dea High School, where he was named to the first-team All-Metro League during his senior year in 2018. “We knew he was a good player and he would find a way to get himself onto the field because of his confidence, because of his work ethic and his intelligence.”
Powell’s journey could’ve been a whole lot different had he gone with a purely educational choice for college, and he had lots of prestigious options.
School was priority No. 1 growing up in the Powell household. Powell was raised in Seattle by his mother, Yvonne Powell, who got her Ph.D from Penn State and her master’s from Columbia. His father, Darrell Powell, got his MBA from Harvard. His older sister, Uriah Powell, graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in public health.
Mishael’s father helped instill in his son the ability to engage his brain not only in school, but also on the football field.
“You’re going to be the smartest person on the field,” Darrell Powell said he told his son. “I didn’t say you were going to be the best player; I didn’t say you were going to be the best athlete. I said you’re going to be the smartest person on the field… I’ve been telling him that since he was eight years old,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
Powell had football offers from several Ivy League schools, including Columbia, Cornell and Yale. While his parents may have wanted him to go the Ivy League route, he said he didn’t feel pressured and was given the space to make his own decision.
A major reason for Powell turning down the Ivy League scholarships was that he wanted to play on a bigger football stage than the Ivy Leagues could offer. He wanted the best of both worlds, which is why being a direct-admit into the Foster School of Business at UW impacted him in his decision to stay in Seattle.
His decision was not the one that his father would’ve picked for him, but it was his decision and it has worked out so far.
“He bet on himself and won,” Darrell Powell said. “You make decisions for your kid as a parent up through their teenage years and formative years. This was the first big decision he had to make and he made it.”
When deciding to go to the University of Washington, Powell accepted that he would be starting at the bottom of the depth chart. The roster was full of future NFL talent at cornerback, with Elijah Molden and Myles Bryant, but Powell said he believed in himself and welcomed the challenge.
Being a walk-on comes with negative connotations–people assume that you aren’t as talented as scholarship players. But Powell says he accepts that stereotype and stands by his choice. Now, in his third year on the team, Powell knows what he has to do to keep growing.
“One thing that’s separated me in terms of where I’m at now is just my mindset,” Powell said. “I believed I could do it and not only just believing, but I worked at it. There were times where I was up till 3 a.m. doing a workout or doing something that would benefit me, whether that was watching tape, whether that was trying to get my weight down at the time.”
Powell wants more, though.
His aspirations are not just to be a full-time starter at Washington, but to eventually find his way into the NFL. How? The same way he went from being a three-star with no offers from any Power Five school, to walking on at a Power Five school in the UW, to starting a game for the University of Washington.
“You just have to stick to your goal,” Powell said. “If you have a plan, stick to it, but just know you’re going to have to work.”
“I told myself that you’re going to have to work harder than you’ve ever had to before and even where I’m at now I need to work even harder, I still need to go. Just stay to your goals, whatever your goal is, stay true to it and just believe it.”