The words still live in UNA running back ShunDerrick Powell’s head and heart. He’s too small, he was told, to play college football.
“Yeah, I heard that,” said Powell, who is from Hoxie, Arkansas. “I had one college, Arkansas, my (home state) school, I was talking to the running back coach and trying to get up there. The head coach up there said, ‘Nah, he’s too small, he’s not SEC material.’ I was like, ‘That’s okay, I’ll find somebody else, see who really believes in me and give it my all.’ When I heard that, it just pushed me to be better. I have no hard feelings against those guys at all, it just made me better.”
He found a home at UNA. This past Saturday, the 5-foot-7, 177-pound sophomore broke a 29-year-old school record by rushing for 251 yards in a 49-17 home victory over UVA-Wise. The previous mark was 248 yards by Tyrone Rush against Delta State in 1993. Powell carried the ball 20 times and scored four touchdowns, which was one shy of the school record of five touchdowns set by Don Cornelius in 1965.
Only one other FCS player has rushed for more yards in a game thus far this season. Monmouth's Jaden Shirden had 299 yards on 12 carries against Fordham on Saturday. It was also two yards short of tying the ASUN Conference record for rushing yards in a game.
“Man, it’s just a blessing,” Powell said. “I really want to thank the coaches and my teammates. I wouldn’t be in this position without those guys. To be honest, the biggest thing for me is to win. I always want to win. The yards and stuff like that, that’s extra.”
Powell’s record-setting night started slowly. His first quarter rushing totals consisted of two rushes for five yards. UNA trailed, 14-0, after the first 15 minutes. His first carry of the second quarter went for 75 yards and the Lions’ first touchdown. By halftime, he had eight carries for 105 yards with two touchdowns.
In between series, throughout the entire game, he visited with the offensive linemen on the sideline.
“I really appreciate those guys,” Powell said. “I motivate those guys on the sideline, as much as I can, to keep them in the game, keep them rolling. I just tell them to block for a second, I’ll try to score a touchdown.”
He had 108 yards rushing on six carries in the fourth quarter, including a 41-yard touchdown run on the first play of the final 15 minutes. An 8-yard carry with about four minutes left pushed him past the record.
At some point, he’s going to reward his blockers.
“I'm going to try to do something for them,” Powell said. “I haven’t told them nothing. I’ve got them thinking I’m not going to get them anything, but I’m going to surprise them, I promise you.”
That winning feeling 🔥 pic.twitter.com/gxrjqfeokC— North Alabama Football (@UNAFootball) September 11, 2022
Saturday’s output is not the most yards he’s gained in a game. Powell set a school record of 350 yards rushing at Hoxie High. During his final two seasons, playing in the backfield with his brother Daylon, Hoxie was 22-4 with playoff trips to the quarterfinals and semifinals.
“Friday nights were crazy, everybody was there,” Powell recalled. “Man, it was fun. I really miss high school football. It was just a blessing going out there with my teammates, having fun, coaches making us have fun.”
A big part of the fun was playing alongside his brother. ShunDerrick is a year older but both were in the same grade. Brotherly competition, which included a younger brother, helped them become better athletes.
“We are so competitive,” Powell said. “We’ve been like that our whole entire life. We can be in any game, the littlest thing, and me and him are going to compete. No matter what. Whatever we do, I promise you, we’re going to compete.”
Daylon, a 6-foot-2 dual-threat quarterback, committed to UNA first. ShunDerrick followed soon after. Daylon didn’t play last season and transferred to Pitt State. ShunDerrick, who weighed 164 pounds at the time, played in few games as a freshman, gaining 154 yards on 30 carries, while adjusting to college football.
“Oh man, it just really showed me how different high school and college ball is, the speed of the game,” Powell said. “I did a lot of running to the outside because, basically, that’s what I did in high school. I didn’t do a lot of inside running or really running over people and things like that.”
His transformation into becoming a better college running back came during the offseason. He hit the weight room and added nearly 15 pounds. It’s changed his options with the football in his hands.
“I still feel like I’m 164, with my speed, when I’m running but I have a different mentality,” said Powell, who has been timed at 4.3 in the 40-yard dash. “Coach always says run like you’re a 220-pound player, I just want to keep that mentality. A lot of people, they think we’re small and can only run fast and juke. I want to change that, I want to be a speed guy, juke, truck people, I want to do all that.”
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