Harding grad Powell leader of YSU secondary

YOUNGSTOWN — Jalyn Powell came to Youngstown State three years ago, transferring from Michigan State after a change he didn’t necessarily care for put him at a new position.

Oddly enough, it was a position change last year that has helped him become one of the best players on the Youngstown State’s defense.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Powell played a bit of a hybrid position last year, which he called “dime,” and described as a “DB and linebacker mixed together.” Normally a safety, he moved back to his natural position later in the season and had a productive season year with the Penguins.

He’s looking for bigger things as a senior.

“I want to definitely be all-conference, All-American for sure,” said Powell, a 2013 Warren G. Harding graduate. “I’ve got to work to get there. It’s not just going to happen. Every week I have to keep pushing and pushing to make sure that I get there.”

He’s off to a good start.

In Week 1, Powell led the Penguins with 14 tackles, and he followed that up with three against Robert Morris. After changing positions to find a way onto the field, Powell has earned the right to be the starting free safety. It’s the same spot he played throughout high school and the one he took over in the final two games of last season.

Suspensions led to Powell being YSU’s last line of defense against two of the top teams in the nation as the Penguins beat Eastern Washington, 40-38, in a national semifinal and lost to James Madison, 28-14, in the FCS Championship. While switching positions wasn’t always preferred by Powell, he admitted it has helped him — including in the season-opening OT loss to Pitt.

“I feel like I know the defense pretty well, especially with this being my third year,” he said. “I played a lot last year at a different position, so it kind of helped me see it from a different view. So yeah, I feel like I got a pretty good understanding of it now.”

YSU coach Bo Pelini agrees, which would have been a surprising remark a few seasons ago.

Powell said his mind wasn’t completely into the game when he first arrived, and he and Pelini butted heads — with Powell nearly leaving the team. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed, and Powell realized the opportunity in front of him.

Now he’s looking to make the most of it as the leader of a young-but-talented secondary.

“I definitely feel we could be as good or better than we were last year, for sure,” said Powell of the defense, which was one of the FCS’s best in 2016. “We’ve got some new faces, but throughout the season, we can be a great defense. Our goal is to be the best defense in the nation. We can achieve that for sure. We’ve just got to stay focused — make sure we read our keys and make plays each week.”

Powell is the lone defensive back who is a returning starter for YSU. He said he’s enjoyed being the elder statesman of the group.

The most important attribute for Powell is communication. As the safety, he must recognize opponent’s formations and make sure the secondary is aligned properly to the changing looks. The days leading up to the game are equally vital for Powell and the young players he’s helping mentor.

“When we’re in the film room, I just make sure I’m communicating, and on the field I’m making sure I’m communicating to make sure we’re all on the same page and make sure everyone knows what’s going on at all times,” he said. “I’ve got to be a little more vocal (with a younger group), but I’m pretty vocal as it is.”

His experience makes the connection easier. Since Powell has played multiple roles, he understands their roles and the difficulties they might face. It’s a bit ironic, but one of the more frustrating parts of Powell’s career has made him into the complete player he is today.

“It’s definitely played a role,” he said. “It slows everything down for me. Last year, it was kind of faster for me. I knew what was going on, but not as much as I do now. The more reps I get every week, it just helps me out more and more. It slows the game down for me each week.”