Did you ever wish you could go back in time knowing what you know now? They made that one TV show about it, it got cancelled, and now and now Jerrell Powe is living the dream.
The 2004 high school all-American from Waynesboro, Miss., was one of the most highly sought after players in America and signed to attend Ole Miss as part of Ed Orgeron's first class in 2005. Failing to qualify, however, Powe enrolled at Hargrave Military School in Virginia amidst conflicting reports that he was illiterate, suggested in legal documents and later disputed by his mother, and/or dyslexic, suggested by his lawyer and disputed by his counselor. At one point, Powe was compelled to read a newspaper article aloud for reporters as evidence of his literary abilities. Following the recommendation of an NCAA review panel last September, Powe has enrolled in correspondence courses at Brigham Young and, last month, gone back to class at Wayne County High School in hopes of meeting entry level requirements to attend Ole Miss this fall.
I recently sat down with Powe over How Mok with kidney beans, herbs, and coconut milk dough croutons in a banana leaf fajita to discuss moving on, looking back and the price you pay for youth.
- - -
SMQ: You just turned 20 last month. Happy Birthday.
JP: Well, thank you. It's kind of a milestone, I suppose, although I should add that I've had a real devil of a time looking at it from that perspective. I generally shun birthdays. A lot of people asked me, "How does it feel to be twenty? Can you believe it? I can't believe it!" I don't know why they couldn't believe I lived to be 20 years old. Even very large African American football players make it into their fifties.
SMQ: How is the transition going back to Wayne County High? Was it humbling to re-enroll after, you know, graduating two years ago?
JP: Not at all. I was quite excited, in fact, and very enthusiastic to excel in certain areas where perhaps I didn't fulfill my full potential. Henry Ward Beecher knew very well that "one's best success comes after his greatest disappointments." It's like getting an opportunity to rewrite your life exactly as you'd like, to experience more and create opportunities for yourself that you realize are out there. My fellow statesman, Brett Favre, explored the same scenario in his seminal autobiography, Favre: For the Record, when he insightfully pondered his longing for lost youth in a passage in which he writes, "Sometimes I wish could go back to when I was a little kid and play pee wee football, but just like I am now. I would totally dominate." Modesty forbids me from claiming that I actually dominate on my few trips to the War Eagle practice field, "totally" or to any other degree, but I do often feel a kind of malaise when I'm there that surprises me. They don't let me wear pads. Rather than feeling like a star - an even bigger fish than I was the first time around - I feel very out of place, like a whale dropped into a lake. That probably sounds very arrogant, but I don't feel the kind of pride I expected. I thought it would be the same, only better, because I would be better. But that pond is too small, and what I'm learning is that life is made up of stages, and you have to take those stages as they come. Once they're gone, they're gone, and I've been contemplating a lot recently on the foolishness of trying to reclaim those moments rather than looking ahead in life. In some ways, Charlotte Bronte is very profound when she says, "Life is so constructed that an event does not, cannot, will not match the expectation."
SMQ: You haven't been out of high school very long - are some of the same friends and teachers around? Do you find that you're being treated differently?
Life is all about second chances. Tom Lemming's cool with that.
- - -
JP: Again, I find myself disappointed by the reality, which never matches the amazing scenario I've constructed for myself in my head. High school is a drag when you're there, but when you get out into the world, who wouldn't want to go back? It's like a cocoon of sanctioned irresponsibility. So even if you're just kind of competent by adult standards, you're considered a genius in high school. I envision myself with a sort of swagger, as I suppose we all do, and girls would naturally gravitate towards that. I was going to learn to play the guitar, run for student government, start a school Objectivist Club, so many activities. I was going to walk into a party and everybody would yell out Jerrell! or Edgar Jerrell Powe! (even if my last name is spelled differently, "The Cask of Amontillado" is one of my all-time favorites) and toss me beers behind their back and it would be this amazing time in my life. Imagine how easy those girls would be to impress, because they seem so vapid in retrospect. In reality, though, I'm not finding that to be the case. I find myself often saying that, frankly, sixteen-year-old girls do not hold the same appeal they did when I was seventeen. They look so much younger now! Also every girl in the school is jail bait and I'd be arrested immediately for touching any of them.
When I think about it, though, I'm just saying that. The opportunities may still be there, and I may still be missing them because of my natural shyness. I've never been lucky with girls, I confess. For instance, I sit next to a very nice girl in psychology, very pretty, or pretty enough, and we get along really well. We had to watch a video once in class, "The Two Faces of Eve," about split-personality disorder, and we wound up talking through the entire movie about old episodes of "I Love Lucy" because we are both such huge fans. As dated as some episodes obviously are, the comedy really has held up over tremendously over the decades. And I really felt like this girl was different, you know, like maybe I had found someone who really got me. My friends can tell you, if you know Lucy, you know Jerrell. I wanted to ask her to prom, but I was so shy. I was really nervous. I walked into that class every day for two weeks planning to ask her out, and always I chickened out. I kept asking myself, "Jerrell, what's wrong with you? You are a confident, talented young man with a lot going for you! She'd be lucky to go out with you!" But it never took. We'd be getting along fine, and then I just wouldn't be able to muster up the courage at the end of class to say, "Hey, would you like to go to prom with me?" Those words come out so easy now, but it was impossible at the time. Even though I'm a good five years older than her and have a driver's license.
Had you gone to prom during your first stint in high school?
Well, no, I was one of those kids who was always saying, "Prom is stupid. If this is the best night of my life, I might as well go ahead and slit my wrists during `My Heart Will Go On.'" I wouldn't be caught dead in some poseur monkey suit when I was 17, 18. Of course I recognize now that was all really a defense mechanism, but I was very defiant. I read a lot of Chuck Palahniuk at that time, before I got into a lot more upbeat writers like Dave Eggers who sort of washed the whole sullen slate clean. Coming back, I wanted to experience everything. I wanted to be the prom king. You believe that? I thought it would be easy. Hey, stupid high school kids, vote for me! But the only way I even wound up with a date was when we were talking before class one day, me and this girl, and I just threw it out there, really casually, like "Man, I'm getting kind of stressed about prom. I don't even have a date yet." And she says, "Yeah, me either." And my man, this scrawny white dude sitting next to me, I don't even know him, but I'm praying to god he says exactly what he says, which was "Hey, why don't you two go together?" I laughed it off, cool, like "Yeah, man, right, whatever. But you know...maybe it's not so crazy..." And when she said yes, that afternoon I threw that kid in my Camry and was like, "little man, Ole Miss is paying for the best vodka you can reach off the shelf."
SMQ: Did you have a good time?
JP: At the prom?
SMQ: Yeah. Was it as fun as you'd hoped?
JP: I don't want to talk about it.
SMQ: Well, come on, does anybody have a great prom?
JP: I am not a fucking bet!
- - -
Jerrell Powe hopes to qualify academically for the University of Mississippi by August.