It’s been a strange path for Joe Powell that has included an obscure junior college football program, a stint in a semipro league, an open tryout for an Arena League team and a lot of hungry days without being able to afford a meal. But it led him to the spot he found himself on Thursday: On the field for the Giants, lined up to cover Odell Beckham Jr.
“It was a long journey,” the newest cornerback on the Giants roster said after his first practice with the team. “It was an honor to finally line up against somebody I’ve been watching. I really embraced the moment. I only went against him once, but for that one time it was a great achievement.”
Considering where Powell came from, it certainly was. On the roster he’s listed as a product of Globe Tech. Don’t worry, Powell had never heard of it, either. But after he spent a season at Virginia University of Lynchburg, he had to go someplace to play. He came to New York to try to attend ASA College, but could not get cleared to play football and was told about Globe Tech, which is in Manhattan. So he went there.
It was not easy. He commuted from a shared apartment in Jersey City and had so little money that he often had to decide which days of the week he would eat. The days he couldn’t afford to eat, he said, he just drank a lot of water.
“It was a hard struggle,” he said.
He played seven games — not even a full season — before financial aid issues forced him to depart from that school as well. He went back home to Portsmith, Virginia, and played semipro football before he went to an open tryout for the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks of the ADL (Arena Developmental League). He was given a contract and then picked up by the Cleveland Gladiators. That’s the team he played for this spring, making $800 a week before taxes during the season.
“It was tough but it was worth it,” he said. “Money comes and money goes. The money wasn’t my big issue, it was about getting to the next level.”
Which leads to the Giants calling this week. Matt Smalley, a rookie defensive back, injured his shoulder in practice on Monday and the team needed to replace him. They brought in a bunch of free-agent cornerbacks for a tryout on Wednesday and wound up signing the 22-year-old Powell by the end of the day. He was on the field Thursday.
“I didn’t really go to college so my odds were low as far as being on an NFL team,” he said. “I just trusted in my grind and my hard work and put my faith in the man above that he would get me to where I wanted to be.”
He’s still got a long way to go to make the actual team. The Giants have 90 men on their roster and he’s the 90th. He doesn’t know if he’ll get to play in the preseason game on Saturday in Buffalo. None of that mattered on Thursday, though.
“I’m just blessed and thankful to be here,” he said. “I’m going to embrace the moment.”
He jumped right in to play corner with the scout team on Thursday. He said it was tough adjusting to the outdoor game after playing two years in an arena with a 50-yard field and walls. And he said playing in heat and humidity for the first time in a few seasons was an adjustment. But after one practice he came away still believing he has what it takes to make it. Besides Beckham, he also was lined up against rookies Roger Lewis and Darius Powe in various drills. There were no glaring mistakes and he seemed to keep pace with them.
“I can play at this level,” he said. “I still have a lot of work to do. Today was my first time ever going against actual NFL guys and I see that I’m a little low at what I need to do. But it’s going to pick up. The speed wasn’t the difference to me, it was knowing the game and technique. I have a lot of work to do.”
Especially if he’s going to face Beckham again.
“He beat me on a slant route,” Powell said, “but they didn’t throw him the ball.”