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TK Powell emerges as key weapon for offense

Photo courtesy UTEP Athletics
Running back TK Powell evades a Louisinana Tech defender. Powell rushed for 150-yards against the Bulldogs.

Once a walk-on football player, to having a break out game with 150-yards: that is the fast-forward journey of sophomore running back TK Powell.

This spring, Powell is vying for the second place spot on the depth chart behind standout running back Aaron Jones. While Jones has been using the spring to rehabilitate the injury he suffered from last season, Powell continues to shine in the practices that the Miners have been having.

“We knew he had major run skills,” head coach Sean Kugler said. “Now he is coming on as a blocker. He understands the system; he’s going to be a major role player for us.”

It was his mom who initiated the conversation about Powell playing the sport when he was in elementary school.

“I didn’t start playing football until I saw it for the first time—I was around nine, and my mom was just like ‘you want to get hit?’” Powell said. “She signed me up and from then I was just a stand out child.”

Although he said he was a significant player, Powell’s journey in football was not always clear. He was part of a varsity high school football team that was made up entirely of freshmen. His class was the first in his high school and went through the hardship of playing against opponents who were much older than him and his team.

“The first year our school opened we actually accomplished one thing barely no body else accomplished—we won a varsity game,” Powell said.

Because he was at a school with little success, Powell was not recruited heavily and only had one recruit look at him.

“I had one offer, but it was only because of SAT scores—that’s it,” Powell said. “I got looks and I went to the mini combines to help my name get out. If they liked what they saw and they saw papers about you, that was the only way to get noticed.”

Family is what brought him to UTEP. His cousin, the late Thomas Howard, also played for UTEP under ex-head coach Mike Price. His old high school coach was also a Miner and convinced him to play for Kugler.

“I didn’t get offered from UTEP—I’m a walk on here,” Powell said. “I have a cousin who played here—he was rushing MVP in 2004, my rushing coach from senior year set it up, I went from walk on to preferred walk on.”

As a freshman, Powell redshirted as a running back and never expected to play. He forgoed his freshman year to remain eligible for four more seasons while still being able to practice with the team. This was a smart move for any running that was sitting behind Aaron Jones.

His freshman year, though, was anything but typical. Aaron Jones got injured in the second game of the season and the running back depth chart quickly changed.

The injury-riddled season that the Miners had put a lot of pressure on coach Kugler to burn Powell’s redshirt and use an available running back. This would take the year that Powell was going to have and waste it on three games; something Powell did not mind whatsoever.

“I was excited. I called my mom right when it happened,” Powell said. “I was so excited, I was like ‘mom they are pulling my redshirt.’ I was happy even though it was the last three games, I was like I finally get to put my name out there.”

The back’s success did not come easy. He got his first opportunity to play against Old Dominion. During that game, Powell ran for four yards on one carry.

In the next game, Powell would get his breakout game against Conference USA powerhouse LA Tech. There he ran for 124 yards and even had a breakaway run for 37 yards. Powell ended his freshman year at North Texas where he ran six yards.

TK Powell was one of only two rushers that year that ran for over 100 yards in a game. Though he only played for three games, he said that his motivation is to continue to improve.

Though coach Kugler has said many times the decision to burn a redshirt is not one that he takes lightly, he said he felt proud of Powell for doing it. Kugler now sees Powell as part of the game plan.

“TK is a hard runner, he has natural skills,” Kugler said. “We burned his redshirt last year when were kind of decimated at running back and ended up running for 150 against Louisiana Tech.”

Kugler also said he plans to keep Powell involved in the offense and that last year was no fluke. With his sophomore year coming up, coach Kugler has plans for TK Powell.

Powell started his career as the fifth running back down the depth chart, and was going to end his year with no change. He is now the third string running back and continues to fight for the second string spot. 

Powell’s motivation comes from his mother.

“I’m studying for business—I’m trying to be an auditor like my mom,” Powell said. “She travels the world for AZZ Incorporated, and I like what she does and traveling. Who wouldn’t want to travel and make money?”

The backup battle is currently between Powell, Treyvon Hughes and Orion Prescott. In the first scrimmage of spring football, Powell led the rushing core with six carries for 27 yards. During the second scrimmage, he piled a short run in for a touchdown and was second in rushing, totaling 25 yards.

Powell and the Miners will conclude their spring practices on Friday, April 12, for their annual spring game. Kick off for the orange-white game will be at 7:05 p.m.

The spring football game is slated in three weeks at 7 p.m. on April 15 at the Sun Bowl.

Juan Carlos Navarrette may be reached at [email protected].

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TK Powell emerges as key weapon for offense