For the first time since arriving on campus, ETSU redshirt junior wide receiver Drake Powell (Clinton, Tenn.) has entered fall camp without any setbacks.
Powell – one of 19 Buccaneers remaining from the original 2015 signing class – hopes his time spent in the athletic training room and extra work put in with redshirt junior quarterback Austin Herink (Cleveland, Tenn.) pays off for the Blue and Gold this season.
“It (fall camp) feels completely different this year,” said Powell, who has played in 19 of the 22 games for the Bucs in the last two seasons. “My first year playing (2015 season) was cut short due to injury. I had four surgeries in two months and then I had a bruised foot – which I thought was broken. Since I’ve been here, it seems every single year coming into camp there has been something wrong with me, but this year I took care of my body throughout the summer. I made sure to keep myself healthy so I would be ready to go once camp started. I feel like this is the best I have felt since being at ETSU, which is a huge plus coming into camp.”
Powell started giving the Buccaneer faithful a glimpse of what he can provide ETSU’s offense towards the end of the 2016 season. In the last four games – against The Citadel, Mercer, Cumberland and Samford – Powell registered 18 receptions for 328 yards and one touchdown. The touchdown – a 69-yard strike from Herink against Mercer – may have been the launching point for Powell.
“I gained a whole lot of confidence after the touchdown catch at Mercer,” said Powell, whose 69-yard touchdown reception marked the longest play by the Bucs since restarting the program in 2015. “It took me a long time to get going. It took me a long time to grow up. After the catch, I gained that confidence and it took off from there.”
Herink echoed Powell’s words regarding his touchdown reception, which gave ETSU a 10-7 lead midway through the third quarter.
“I think that game (at Mercer) gave Drake some reassured confidence,” Herink said. “Drake was a big-time player in high school and getting that first touchdown got the monkey off his back. After that happened, when we threw screens, he became such a dynamic runner and it really sparked our offense. I see him taking the next step in getting better and better as he continues to be a Buccaneer.”
The Buccaneer duo of Powell and Herink took matters into their own hands to strengthen an already solid bond on the field. Making time throughout the year – whether they were at home during breaks or still on campus – Powell and Herink managed to get together and run routes.
“Over winter and summer break, or while we were still on campus, we would schedule times to find a place to practice,” Powell said. “I would either drive to Cleveland (Tennessee) or Austin would drive to Knoxville, but we made an emphasis on getting better by getting in extra reps. By doing that, our camaraderie will be great this year.” Through the early stages of camp, that extra time put in on the field has started to show.
“All the work we put in throughout the off-season is definitely showing now in camp,” said Herink. “Drake is definitely looking great in our practices. He wasn’t 100-percent the first few years. This is the healthiest I have seen him since being at ETSU.”
Having Powell healthy and ready to go can only bolster the Buccaneer offense even more. Powell is a strong asset for Herink and the offense, and without any delays, the Buccaneer receiver can be primed for a big season.
“Drake is a really important part to our offense,” Herink said. “In the position he plays, Drake has to win one-on-one matchups. I trust him to do that. With him winning those matchups, it will take our offense to the next level. If we can win those matchups this season, we will be a better football team.”
Despite his first couple of seasons not going as planned, Powell still has time to make an impact at ETSU. Powell has taken all the adversity he’s has faced and used it to become a better person both on and off the field.
“As you get older things start to slow down,” said Mike Rader, ETSU’s wide receivers coach/recruiting coordinator. “Drake understands his role very well and he’s trying to take his game to the next level. He also understands how to give back. I have talked to Drake and the other older guys about the legacy they leave, and I think he has taken that very seriously.
“The next step for Drake is to fine-tune the little things, and really understand what the defense is trying to do to him and how he needs to react in the middle of a play. Off the field, he needs to continue to be the leader he has become and not be afraid to correct guys when they need to be corrected, love on them when they need to be loved on and set the true standard for our receivers group.”
By showing flashes of taking the next step, Powell has the tools to become an all-conference player. But for him and the rest of the team, the goal is to win a Southern Conference Championship.
“I would love to be an all-SoCon player, but as a team, which is where all of our focus is, we need to set our standards to being the best we can be and win a SoCon Championship. We know what our team goals are and will to strive to meet them each and every day.”