For Powell, the opportunity to play quarterback is a 'dream come true.'
On a hot afternoon at the practice field at Matanzas High School, Josef Powell, sweat-stained and speckled with grass and dirt, lines up on offense. Not as a receiver, where he first saw action for the Pirates in 2017. Not as a running back, where he seized the starting job after a 74-yard touchdown run on Oct. 6 against New Smyrna Beach.
Powell scans the defense, yells “go” and takes a handoff from the center, launching a 40-yard bomb to a sprinting receiver. On the next possession, he lines up at the familiar position of a receiver, where he snags a deep throw by his outstretched finger tips.
As practice draws to a close, the Pirates’ first-year head coach, Don Mathews, has his team practice kickoff returns.
Powell doesn’t sit on the sideline, though, like most quarterbacks. He returns the kicks himself.
In one day of practice, Powell, a rising senior at Matanzas, will work on four different positions — and that’s just on offense.
When it’s time for defense, he takes reps at safety.
He doesn’t get tired, though.
“I can go 100% every play and not think twice about it,” he said.
‘READY TO FIGHT FOR ME’
In Kentucky, basketball is king. But not for Powell, who moved to Palm Coast from Louisville at the end of his sophomore year. Football is his sport.
“I just like hitting people. There’s nothing else like it to me,” he said. “It’s totally different than any other sport. You can’t be soft ... If you don’t like contact, you’re not going to survive in this sport. You’re going to really know who’s a man and who’s not.”
So when Mathews approached Powell with the idea of giving him a shot at quarterback a week before spring practice, he jumped at the chance. Mathews needed a dynamic athlete and a quick-thinker to run his newly instituted triple-option attack.
“I was thrilled,” Powell said.“I like having the game in my hands. The quarterback is literally the general on the field.”
But Powell’s move to his new position didn’t come without a serious learning curve. He had to learn an entirely new system, unfamiliar footwork and keep up with the other positions he plays in the span of 30 days.
In his first practice at quarterback, Powell was working on pitching the ball to the full back — a key skill in the triple option. He tried to do a euro step, a basketball move, around his defender. He fumbled.
“I never did that again,” he said. “That was a teaching moment for sure.”
Regardless, the hardest part was learning how to inspire his teammates.
In the Pirates’ spring game against Clay on May 18, Matanzas offensive lineman Cecil Bermudez missed a block, leading to a tackle-for-loss. Powell yelled at him. But he noticed Bermudez didn’t respond well to it. Powell took a different approach on the next play.
“Hey bro, my bad. I didn’t mean to yell at you,” he told his teammate. “I’m just trying to get you pumped. You’ve got this.”
Bermudez’s attitude changed.
“I could tell instantly that he was ready to fight for me,” Powell said.
‘I’VE DREAMED ABOUT THIS’
The Pirates open the preseason against Ed White on Aug. 16 at Matanzas. And although the QB battle between Powell and Demontre Neely is far from over, Powell will most definitely make an appearance at the position — in addition to all the other positions he plays.
As the quarterback, especially of a team that struggled to score points in 2017, all eyes will be on him. That’s the way he likes it.
“Just having the ability to play football, especially playing quarterback, in Florida is breathtaking,” he said. “I’ve dreamed about this moment my whole life.”