Rebels recruit Powe might land at another SEC school

Jerrell Powe might actually be playing football this season, but it could be against the Ole Miss Rebels rather than for them, writes Bruce Feldman.

Updated: June 21, 2007, 6:49 PM ET
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine

Get ready for the next wave of twists and turns in the Jerrell Powe saga.

Powe, the mammoth 6-foot-3, 345-pound blue-chip defensive tackle whose bid to become eligible last fall made headlines across the nation after he was denied by the NCAA, might actually be playing football this season, but it could be against the Ole Miss Rebels rather than for them.

Powe, through adviser Joe Barnett, is being represented by Don Jackson, an Alabama lawyer who has taken the NCAA to court repeatedly the past few years, including on behalf of former Mississippi State hoops star Mario Austin and other high-profile basketball players. Jackson said Wednesday night that he wants to work with Ole Miss to help get Powe certified but cautioned that time is tight because two-a-days for football are only about six weeks away. Jackson wants to give Ole Miss seven to 10 more days to formally commit to supporting Powe.

"This can be a cooperative effort getting him cleared," Jackson said, adding that he's asking Ole Miss to "have faith" that Powe has taken all the proper steps to address the NCAA issues with his academic profile in the year since he was denied.

"The difficulty I have is that I'm trying to work around the fear of retaliation."

That fear, Jackson said, is something he has seen many times from colleges reluctant to engage in controversial cases that might stoke the ire of NCAA investigators looking for a school to probe, which he says means that, in essence, "Students and schools are being held hostage."

Powe has retaken courses, some through correspondence classes and others by going back to Wayne County High in his native Waynesboro, Miss., to build up his case. He is expected to complete his final course, a Spanish class he is taking in Jackson, Miss., by mid-July.

"Ole Miss is still my No. 1 choice," Powe said Thursday morning. "I chose them. I've been with them all this time and I wanna represent my state, but I still have to make the best choice for me.

"If I don't get that commitment from them, I'm going to do a little shopping around and pick the best situation for me."

Upon Jackson's advice, Barnett says, he sent a letter earlier this week to Ole Miss athletic director Pete Boone requesting all the documentation from Powe's case with the NCAA last year. Barnett said he hoped that would help prepare them for building the lineman's case for his next shot at getting approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse. Barnett, a real estate appraiser who has been a family friend of Powe's since the defensive tackle was a high school sophomore, also asked for a letter from the school that would verify that if Powe had met admissions requirements for incoming freshmen and was cleared by the NCAA, Ole Miss' admissions committee would recommend Powe be admitted to the school.

According to Barnett, Boone replied by saying "Well, [Powe] hadn't even applied for this semester yet."

That answer didn't sit well with Barnett, who says he plans to speak with coaches from other teams in the SEC this week about whether they might be interested in Powe, who, at one time or another as a high school senior, had committed to LSU and Auburn.

Ole Miss is still my No. 1 choice. I chose them. I've been with them all this time and I wanna represent my state, but I still have to make the best choice for me. If I don't get that commitment from them, I'm going to do a little shopping around and pick the best situation for me.

DT recruit Jerrell Powe

Barnett said he'd call LSU running backs coach Larry Porter, who had recruited Powe two years ago, then reach out to two of Powe's former Wayne County High teammates who play at Auburn to see whether they could talk to the Tigers coaches on his behalf.

Asked what kind of reaction he thought he'd get when he called other schools to say Powe is available, Barnett said: "The first thing they're going to do is sh-- in their britches. And then after they get that cleaned up, they're going to say, 'What do we need to do to make this happen?'"

The answer: Just provide Powe with that letter stating that if he gets cleared by the NCAA, he'd be accepted by the school. Or basically just say, "Yes, we do want him."

For Ole Miss, that apparently is not so easy. The Powe case has proved to be quite volatile, and the school has taken a heavy PR hit already. Last summer, the NCAA Clearinghouse announced that Powe had completed his requirements with "significant" assistance. There was a lawsuit. Local papers printed comments from Powe's mother, filed in legal papers. One sentence in particular made Powe a much bigger name than being just a standout defensive tackle recruit: "Jerrell really is a good child, but he just can't read."

When that quote made its way around, Powe became a symbol to many newspaper columnists of the ills of big-time college athletics. His case, though, is a lot more complex than had been summed up by that one line. (His mother, Shirley, also later said she never said that.)

Over the past year, the Rebels brass has been very cautious in how it supports Powe. Ole Miss had signed him twice, but didn't sign him this past February because he hadn't completed the number of courses it had set as a milepost. Powe's camp felt as though he never had a chance to do so because even though he had applied by Jan. 19 for the final exams from BYU for the correspondence courses he was retaking, the Utah school took two months in responding before actually flying out its own proctor.

Further complicating matters, Barnett isn't technically Powe's legal guardian, so some of the correspondence with Ole Miss also has been curtailed.

When reached Wednesday night, Ole Miss head coach Ed Orgeron declined comment on Powe.

Jackson said he feels confident Powe will get cleared by the NCAA this time. He says that when the NCAA issued its statement on Powe on Sept. 14, it set a road map for the student and that "Over the past year, he's followed that road map to the letter." Jackson also said the NCAA might've violated the federal Family Educational Right to Privacy Act by putting out such a news release. But for now, Jackson's more concerned with setting up Powe's next move, although he said he really hoped this "case didn't end up in court again."

The decision about which school Powe chooses will be all the player's, Barnett stressed. He said that Powe still wants to play for Ole Miss because he loves Orgeron but that it doesn't look as though it's going to happen.

"I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the coaching staff there," Barnett said. "I just don't think that the administration is real keen on the idea of Jerrell coming to the university."

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine and the author of "Meat Market: A Season Inside College Football's No. 1 Recruiting Machine".