‘Deep down, everyone wants to be a ball player,’ says Klein Collins’ Powers on commitment shift
For the past year and a half, Bryson Powers has been inextricably linked with Harvard.
Linked to the point that people actually called him ‘Harvard.’
And the two stayed linked right up until the weekend prior to National Signing Day, when Powers took his last opportunity for an official visit to the University of Tulsa. As it turns out, he’ll join fellow Klein Collins teammate Dante Bivens as a member of next year’s Golden Hurricane squad.
Decommitments can be tricky. It’s inherently a tough situation.
Think back to May 2016. Tate Martell announced his decommitment to Texas A&M via Twitter, prompting assistant coach Aaron Moorehead to rattle off a multi-tweet rant about loyalty, questioning whether or not an unnamed person were ‘soft.’ Perhaps wisely, Mannie Netherly then reversed his commitment to A&M after seeing the Twitter rant. All of the drama was breathlessly reported by numerous national outlets, digital, television and other.
So these things can go pretty badly.
They didn’t go badly at all, though, when Powers – taking an official visit and staying on campus at Harvard to get a feel for what student life would be like - experienced acute culture shock, and eventually told Harvard’s coaches that he felt like a change was needed.
“The coaches up there at Harvard were awesome,” Powers said. “Coach Murphy is one of the greatest guys I’ve ever met. The guys up there were great, too. But, going up there, I’m from Houston, my dad’s a high school football coach, so I’ve grown up in this culture my whole life. The culture was way different up there.”
Klein Collins head football coach Drew Svoboda was fairly involved with his graduating quarterback’s recruiting process, since Bryson’s father Steve is on the Tigers’ coaching staff. As with any player, Svoboda offered only one piece of concrete, actionable advice on where to settle for four years: trust your judgment.
“We were in constant communication the whole time,” Svoboda said. “His dad’s on my staff and a good friend of mine. I’ve known Bryson forever. Ultimately, you just want the players to feel good about their decision. It’s a huge commitment. I didn’t have an opinion on it, other than, ‘you need to go with your heart.’ The one thing I do believe is that when they make a choice on where they’re going to go to school, I think there’s a component of ‘it just feels right.’”
A lot of the components of the story ‘feel right.’ Powers had planned on sealing up the grueling, enervating recruiting process entirely before embarking on a season in which he intended to compete for a state title. With his heart firmly set on Harvard, Powers helped the Tigers rattl off 12 straight wins to close the season and open the playoffs, but the team ultimately fell just short of its state-title game aspirations, by one game - and one week.
That extra week was a week Powers hadn’t accounted for. Now, back home with serious doubts about Harvard’s viability as a destination, Powers said the white noise from Bivens, which he’d been hearing for some time, intensified and took on new clarity (he especially as Tulsa coaches visited Klein Collins a final time to check on their lineman prior to signing day.
Powers was in the right state of mind and the Tulsa recruiters were in the right place – both at the right time – that when the conversation turned to the inevitable, Powers was open to the message.
“I still planned on signing with Harvard, but Tulsa came back in, checking on Dante,” Powers said. “They told Coach Svoboda they’re still really interested in me, and I could take an official just to have peace of mind. Since I was kind of iffy – it’s a four year decision – I took the visit the weekend before signing day.”
Since the reader knows the ending of the story from the headline, what happened next should not be surprising.
“I fell in love,” Powers said. “All the coaches up there are awesome. They’re all old high school football coaches. That’s what I’ve been around my whole life. It just felt like more of what I’m used to. The culture there is down south, basically, and I’ve been around that my whole life.”
In another nod to the good-vibes idea of the situation ‘feeling right,’ one of those old high school football coaches, offensive line coach Mike Bloesch, is also an old Klein Collins varsity football player. In fact, he’s one of the oldest, in the sense that Bloesch was a member of Klein Collins’ first graduating senior class in 2004.
Bloesch was Klein Collins’ first-ever scholarship athlete. In the hall of the athletic wing, next to the football offices and weight room, there is a wall of honor with a long row of portraits. Bloesch’s hangs first.
For Powers, Tulsa was as familiar and inviting as the People’s Republic of Cambridge was alien and inhospitable.
To be the best...
One thing Powers is very familiar with is competing at a high level, ideally, the highest level.
Harvard plays against Princeton, Penn, Brown, Yale, Cornell, Columbia and Dartmouth in the Ivy League. Tulsa lines up against schools like Houston and SMU in the American Athletic Conference and features teams like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Ohio State on its schedule.
Svoboda says that, even as Powers believed he was settled on Harvard, the competitive bug still ate at him somewhat.
“I think why Tulsa ended up being such a good choice is that Bryson wanted to play football at the highest level,” Svoboda said. “He wanted to play Division-I, FBS football. He’s a very good football player. That played a role in it.”
Level of competition played a significant role, says Powers.
“That was a big factor,” Powers said. “In the Ivy League, they don’t have bowl games. They play their schedule every year and it’s over with. I’ve always been big into academics, but deep down, everyone wants to be a ball player.”
At Harvard, where football ranks significantly below a line of dudes rowing a tiny, slender boat in terms of local interest, Powers would have been a ball player. At Tulsa, he’ll be a Ball Player, mixing it up with some of the best talent and coaching in the country on a week-to-week basis.
What Powers can then do in that kind of high-intensity environment is, as another coach told him, entirely up to him.
“Coach [Adrian] Mitchell said something that really resonated with me, as I was going through the process,” Powers said. “He told me, ‘just bet on yourself.’ It is big-time, Division-I football. It’s a big step up. But if I never challenge myself, and if I were to just go play Ivy League football, something would always stick in the back of my mind.”
Powers is far too kind and decent to state it so bluntly or so impolitely, but look at it this way: Harvard’s indisputable biggest-stakes game of the season is predetermined to take place Nov. 18, on the road at Yale. If you’re interested, you can catch that on the Ivy League Digital Network.
Tulsa will open the season with a road contest against Oklahoma State. Should the Golden Hurricane run the table, they could be playing for everything at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Jan. 8. A lower-tier bowl would be a disappointing finish for Tulsa in 2017.
Tulsa doesn’t just schedule well, either. The Golden Hurricane are a strong college football program, and the team can give Powers something Harvard simply cannot, says Svoboda.
“Tulsa went 10-3 last year,” Svoboda said. “They’re really good. They played Ohio State, Oklahoma State. They’ve got some teams early in the season. Bryson is a competitor. He wants to see how he ranks with those guys.”
They’re both college football teams, in one sense, but Tulsa and Harvard are worlds apart in every other.
In theory, Harvard offered Powers an opportunity to compete academically against some of the world’s brightest minds. Tulsa offered Powers the opportunity to compete athletically against some of the world’s best college football talent.
It was a tough call, because like Powers says, he’s big on academics.
But at the end of the day, everyone wants to be a ball player.