Offensive lineman Ben Powers was so misjudged coming out of high school in Kansas he wasn’t even allowed to walk on at an in-state major-college program.
Fast forward four years: The Oklahoma senior guard this week was selected as a semifinalist for the prestigious Outland Trophy.
Voted upon by the Football Writers Association of America, the Outland Trophy is presented to college football’s best interior lineman on offense or defense. Powers is one of eight semifinalists and the field will be reduced to three finalists next week.
As an Outland semifinalist, it’s almost a certainty the FWAA will select Powers as a first-team All-American. In his three seasons at OU, Powers twice has been a Big 12 second-team all-conference pick and was a first-team all-conference preseason selection this summer along with fellow left-side Sooners offensive lineman Bobby Evans.
Pretty heady stuff considering the impression Powers left on major-college coaches while at Wichita’s Kapaun Mt. Carmel High School.
“I had zero offers out of high school. Zero,” Powers explained at Big 12 Media Days last July in Frisco, Texas. “The best offer I had was (Division II) Pittsburg (Kan.) State. I’m talking no Division I, no FCS, no nothing. Nobody wanted me. So I bet on myself and I went to junior college.”
“I had zero offers out of high school. Zero. Nobody wanted me. So I bet on myself.”
– Ben Powers
Powers was particularly miffed at Kansas State. “They didn’t even want me to walk on,” Powers said. “You know the recommended walk-on thing? No, not even that.”
Powers made an immediate impression at Butler Community College, located 30 miles northeast of Wichita in El Dorado. He received seven scholarship offers from notable schools his freshman season.
Kansas State was among them. “Yeah, they wanted me,” Powers said, “and I did not want anything to do with them. If they didn’t want me four months previously, why would they want me now? Look, you go from August to when I got to Butler, and you go to December. What changed? Not much. Not a whole lot.”
Powers chose OU over TCU and enrolled immediately so he could participate in spring practice with the Sooners.
“Looking back, I’m glad it happened that way, because I bet on myself and I believed in myself when no one else did, and that really meant a lot,” Powers said of opting for community college.
Powers was picked by teammates as a team captain this season and is a key component on an offensive line that is arguably the nation’s finest.
OU leads the country in yards per play (8.91), which is on pace to set an FBS record. The Sooners also lead in total offense (577.91 yards), touchdowns (64) and yards per rush (6.83). Their yards-per-completion average (16.92) ranks fifth. Their balanced attack averages 319.7 yards passing and 257.4 yards rushing, which each rank ninth nationally.
OU’s offensive front is overwhelmingly physical and emotional. “They’re like that,” offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said. “That’s how they play.”
Powers starts at left guard, but also has played some right guard for the Sooners. Alongside this season are fellow linemen Evans at left tackle, redshirt freshman Creed Humphrey at center, senior Dru Samia at right guard and redshirt junior Cody Ford at right tackle.
“This connection, the brotherhood these guys have in the meeting room, is unprecedented,” Powers said of the O-line. “It really is. I just love it.”
Bedenbaugh admitted he was one of those college coaches who was unaware of Powers coming out of high school.
How much has Powers improved since he arrived at OU in the spring semester of 2016? “Quite a bit, obviously,” Bedenbaugh said. “A lot of that goes into the hard work and time he’s put in. He was ready to play, but probably not at a high level when he first got here. Right now, he’s playing at an extremely high level.”
Powers said what makes the Sooners’ offensive line particularly effective is they are all so similar. No one stands out more than the other.
Powers’ personal accomplishments are difficult to ignore, however. He has allowed zero sacks this season (one pressure; two hits allowed), has 59 knockdowns in nine games and has been selected as one of the team’s offensive players of the week three times.
“I’ve grown tremendously,” Powers said, “but that’s also to say every single guy on this offensive line has done the same. That’s a big attribute of the entire line. I’m close with every single guy, but Cody Ford, Bobby Evans, Dru Samia and I, we’re all in the same class. We all graduated high school in 2015. This has to do with our connection together. Being able to be here and go through the process together, that’s huge.”
Bedenbaugh agreed with Powers’ assessment.
“I think they all are really pretty similar in how they work, their approach, how they play with their physicality and effort and toughness and all those things,” Bedenbaugh said. “All those guys, they prepare the right way. Those guys get along. They go out to eat together. They hang out together. I’m not saying they’re together 100 percent of the time. I’ve always felt there’s good camaraderie, good chemistry within the group.”
Normally abrupt in interviews, Powers somewhat mysteriously opened up during Big 12 Media Days and delivered this gem:
“A lot of people ask me what motivates me. What motivates me is I love taking a grown man’s dreams and crushing them.”
– Powers at Big 12 Media Day
“Offensive linemen, we just do our job and go home at the end of the day happy that we dominated the man in front of us,” Powers said. “A lot of people ask me what motivates me. What motivates me is I love taking a grown man’s dreams and crushing them.”
Powers also mentioned the Sooners’ annual clash against West Virginia, which comes next week in Morgantown.
The game routinely is physical and chippy, but the Mountaineers have yet to beat OU since joining the Big 12 in 2012 (0-6). “I think West Virginia hates us more than we hate them,” Powers said.
Bedenbaugh is beaming at Powers being named a semifinalist for the Outland. “That’s a big deal. No doubt about it,” Bedenbaugh said. “I’m so proud of him.”
And now Powers, a kid not even allowed to pay his own way and walk on at a major-college program coming out of high school, could soon be playing on Sundays.
“I definitely think he’s going to get drafted,” Bedenbaugh said. “Now, where he gets drafted, I don’t have any idea. There’s a lot of things that go into that. His off-the-field stuff, his intangibles, all those things are going to check out. It depends how he finishes up the season. He’s played good up to this point.”
Asked about his personal goals, Powers said, “I want to be an All-American, all that good stuff, but I want to win the national championship and I want to have the best offensive line in the nation.”
By the time Powers leaves OU, he could have it all.