Tyvis Powell quit football before his junior year of high school. He didn’t see anybody getting college athletic scholarships at his school outside Cleveland, so his plan was to just get a job around town.
That, and lay around playing video games.
“All he did was play Madden,” Bedford High School coach Sean Williams said by telephone from Powell’s hometown in Ohio on Tuesday of the uber-popular NFL video game.
“I said, ‘Let’s work! Instead of playing the game, let’s get you ON the game.”
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Monday, Powell called Williams. He just about shouted to his old and ongoing mentor.
“I’m on the game!” Powell exclaimed.
Yes, Powell is in the NFL. He is one of the most unlikely Seahawks. His dream on which he briefly quit in Ohio became a reality Sunday in Seattle. He played 15 special-teams snaps and assisted on a tackle during Seattle’s 12-10 win over Miami in the 2016 opener.
Powell made his own place on the Seahawks’ roster for Sunday’s game at Los Angeles.
He grew up in Bedford without a father. Robin Powell raised three children as a single mother; Tyvis is three years younger than brother Tashaun, who is three years younger than sister Tiashia. Their mother went to graduate school and worked two jobs, as an assistant in a medical laboratory and tutor to local medical students, while Powell became a 3.1 student at Bedford High.
“I got a Master’s of Education degree when they were still young, so they could see what getting a degree looked like,” Mama Powell said Tuesday evening after work in Ohio.
“All my kids had perfect attendance in school, even if they were sick. If they were sick, the office would call me. It developed Tyvis’ work ethic.”
Williams became his mentor and the father Tyvis never had. He took over as Bedford’s coach before Powell’s junior year, just as Powell was quitting football. And he worked him.
“I would work out at 6 a.m. from November, just after my (junior) football season ended, all the way up until I walked out of there (in June 2012),” Powell said. “Then in the afternoon we would drill — even while I was playing basketball.
“I thought that playing basketball I would get out of the drills. He said, ‘No, you are going to drill as well!’”
Williams played at Ohio University and briefly in 1999 with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was the “yes” man in Powell’s world of “no.” Williams saw a 6-foot-3 defensive back who could run like a track star and catch like a wide receiver.
He saw what no one else did.
“It was people continuously putting him down, telling him he didn’t belong,” Williams said. “They kept telling him he couldn’t do it.”
After Williams revitalized Powell’s love for football and pursuit of a scholarship, Powell told him he wanted to play for Pete Carroll at USC.
“Of course Pete Carroll’s not going to respond to some kid from Ohio they’d never heard of,” Williams said.
Everyone else told the tall, gangly teenager he could never play at mighty Ohio State.
Undeterred, Powell and his coach made the two-hour drive south to Columbus each week. They kept showing up, unannounced, at Ohio State’s football offices.
“I called it ‘reverse recruiting,’” Williams said.
“I was down there every single Saturday — even when they didn’t have anything going on. I thought, ‘I’m going to put him in their faces so much they have to take this kid.’”
Then-Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel did.
Powell’s mom proudly says Tressel told her he will never forget her son shoving his grades in the coach’s face, to show he not only could play but could learn, too.
“No one had ever dropped their report card on him,” Robin Powell said.
Two coaching changes later, Powell intercepted Michigan at the goal line to send Ohio State to victory over its hated rivals in November 2013. He was the defensive MVP of the 2014 national championship game. He was a Buckeyes captain in 2015. He graduated in 3 1/2 years with a marketing degree.
Yet he went undrafted this May.
“This was better,” his mom said. “He got to choose (as a free agent).”
Minutes after the draft ended, Carroll finally called Powell back — five years after Tyvis had called him.
Powell signed with Carroll’s Seahawks.
But he still had to make it in a loaded veteran secondary renowned as the “Legion of Boom.”
He had an impressive August, with standout preseason games at safety, cornerback and on special teams. Then came Sept. 3, the league’s day for final preseason roster cuts.
“I sitting there all day Saturday staring at my phone. ‘Just don’t let that phone ring! Don’t let that phone ring!’” Powell said.
At one point he yelled to no one in particular: “If you are going to do it, do it already!”
“Then I was like, ‘Look, they didn’t call my phone! I don’t know what this means. But I think it means that I made it!’
His phone never rang.
“I tell you what, if I could go back in time I wouldn’t trade it,” Powell said from his new, wood-paneled locker next to Earl Thomas, Richard Sherman and the rest of the Seahawks. Seattle’s luxurious, plush-carpeted locker room is the size of some houses.
“This is like the best situation a person can be in. You go undrafted, what it does is, it makes you work harder.”
Powell and the Seahawks’ six other undrafted rookie are at the bottom of the NFL’s rookie ladder. Germain Ifedi is at the top.
Seattle’s 31st-overall choice got a $4.2 million contract with guarantees of $6.69 million. The team’s starting right guard currently out with a sprained ankle, Ifedi has a four-year contract with a fifth-year team option as a first-round draft choice.
Powell? He could earn $450,000 this season, the league’s minimum salary for a rookie player. And that’s if he stays on the team for all 17 weeks of the regular season.
Powell’s guaranteed money: $0.
“All those other people, not saying they don’t, but some people get the money up front or whatever they are doing, first-round picks, they think they are on top of the world — where they lose their hunger, you know?” Powell said, meaning the league in general and not Ifedi — he’s been a beast since Seattle’s first rookie minicamp in May.
“With me, coming out undrafted, I feel I have to prove myself every day. Even though I’m on the team …”
Powell snaps his fingers.
“… they can still cut me and I’d be gone like that. So I still have to come in and prove myself every day.
“And I’m getting some of the greatest coaches, just with the secondary that’s here.”
He looked to his right. Sherman and Kam Chancellor were at their lockers preparing for a recent practice.
Halfway across the country, he’s got one proud mom.
“Everybody all over town, in the grocery store, they congratulate me about Tyvis,” Robin Powell said. “I already have his Seahawks jersey. I wear it everywhere.
“I asked the team store if they have Tyvis’ in a neon green jersey (which the team unveiled Tuesday for its “Color Rush” home game Dec. 15 against the Rams). I’ve got to get his neon jersey!”
And an entire town outside Cleveland is celebrating the Seahawks’ new No. 40.
“He’s my best friend,” Coach Williams said. “That’s the honest-to-God’s truth, as a grown man.
“I just can’t tell you how much this community loves him. This kid was not supposed to play at Ohio State. He was not supposed to be the team captain at Ohio State. He was not supposed to be in the NFL. He was not supposed to play for the Seattle Seahawks in the Legion of Boom.
“But he is.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
Seahawks’ next opponent
LOS ANGELES RAMS (0-1)
1:05 p.m. Sunday, Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles
Line: Seahawks by 3 1/2.
Against the Seahawks: Seahawks lead the series, 21-14, but the Rams swept Seattle in two games last season for the first time since 2004 and have won three of the past four meetings. The Rams last hosted the Seahawks in Southern California on Oct. 23, 1988, in Anaheim — one month and six days before Russell Wilson was born.
What to know: The Rams return to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the first NFL regular-season game there since Dec. 24, 1994. That day an announced crowd of 64,130 saw the then-LA Raiders lose to Kansas City. There will be far more than that in the historic venue in Exposition Park on Sunday. The Rams have a stated capacity of 80,000 this season, about 13,000 below the Coliseum’s actual capacity for football. But they are selling more seats by exception for this one. More than 90,000 fans may be inside. The Red Hot Chili Peppers will, too, with a pregame concert a half-hour before kickoff. … Seahawks coach Pete Carroll returns to the stadium in which he revived a dynasty at USC from 2001-09. He still has deep roots in Los Angeles, including his philanthropic organization “A Better LA.” … The Rams looked awful Monday night, losing their opener 28-0 at supposedly weak San Francisco. … They still haven’t scored a point as the Los Angeles Rams since Dec. 24, 1994, when they were based down the freeway in Anaheim. … But the Rams’ — St. Louis era — attacking defensive front has given the Seahawks problems the past three years, and most of these matchups have been slogs recently. … L.A.’s biggest threat to Seattle’s in-flux offensive line is stud defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The two-time Pro Bowl selection got thrown out of Monday’s opener for yelling around and then bumping an official for a second personal foul and disqualification. NFL precedent has been for players sanctioned that way to get fined six figures, but not suspended. … The Rams have sacked Russell Wilson 35 times in eight games. That’s the most sacks of Wilson by any of his career opponents. … Coach Jeff Fisher says he is sticking with Case Keenum at quarterback this week. Keenum was 17 of 35 for 130 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns against the 49ers. He had an abysmal passer rating of 34.2 and an average of fewer than four yards per pass attempt. … The Rams kept their No. 1 overall draft pick, rookie Jared Goff, inactive for the opener. … The Rams were 3 for 15 on third downs and had 10 penalties in the opener. Other than that, it went great for them. … Los Angeles kept pounding 2015 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Todd Gurley into a San Francisco defense that was keyed to stop him. Gurley, a 1,100-yard back last season, had 48 yards on 17 carries and one catch for five yards. Expect the Rams to use him and versatile receiver Tavon Austin more creatively Sunday. The Rams have often used Austin on fly sweeps, reverses and bubble screens against Seattle. … Gurley had 19 carries for 83 yards in Seattle against the Seahawks last December. He missed the 2015 Seahawks-Rams opener in St. Louis recovering from reconstructive knee surgery while at the University of Georgia.
Quotable: “I would like to think we’re going to have a significant home field advantage there. We’re disappointed with (Monday) night, but we’re looking forward to our home opener.” — Fisher, on the Rams’ return to the LA Coliseum on Sunday after the embarrassing opener at San Francisco.