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Fourth and Long

I have had the pleasure of watching a lot of Carolina football over the last few years. The advantage I have found to watching it in person instead of on television is that you can focus your attention on whatever and whomever you wish.

Much of my attention over that time has been given to the defensive line play of No. 91, Mr. Tydreke Powell. What I have seen has been astounding.

Certainly I am biased.

Dreke, as he is referred to by most who know him, is an Ahoskie native and Hertford County High School graduate. Despite my being a self proclaimed Bertie County boy, I consider everyone from the Roanoke Chowan area to be one of my own.

I was very open and honest regarding my jubilation when Tydreke chose to “take his talents” to Chapel Hill. I had watched him grow both emotionally and physically as a football and basketball star and looked forward to seeing him get the opportunity to make the most of his God given abilities while wearing Carolina blue.

His success has surprised many while managing to go unnoticed by others. While he may not get a lot of press and his stats may not jump out at you when compared to the rest of the team, I can assure you that his value as a Tar Heel is immeasurable.

Tydreke’s willingness to work hard has been evident from the beginning as he earned more and more playing time and became a valuable member of the starting rotation. Despite not being a starter, Powell always seemed to find ways to impact the game.

During his freshman year in 2008, Powell had three tackles for a loss, including a sack in a big win over Miami.  Not bad for a guy that wasn’t even the starter. He played in all but one game as a freshman and because of injury even stepped in and started a game.

Tydreke’s sophomore season was the one that showed just how good he just might become. Powell seemed stuck behind a rotation of future NFL players yet somehow managed to make his presence felt on the field.  Powell became a space eater, turning what was once his weakness into his advantage. He became not only better at stopping the run, but began to demand a double team from opposing offensive lines.

Look at the most impressive tackles and sacks by Marvin Austin last year and more often than not you will see No. 91 occupying two linemen. Tydreke not only got better as the season progressed, but he made everyone around him better.

When the time came for a big time play in a big time game, it was Tydreke who came though.

In what proved to be the most important game of the season last year, it was Powell who forced the fumble against Ryan Williams and Virginia Tech. UNC recovered, won the game and turned around their season.

This season was Tydreke’s junior season and his first opportunity to solidify his role as a starter.  It turned out to be a season filled with controversy and personnel issues. Despite the hoopla surround the program it was still Powell who managed to play the role of Mr. Dependable.

Tydreke was rock on the defensive line. He was not subbed often and still continued to demand double teams throughout the year. So much so that Quinton Coples moved from defensive end to defensive tackle and earned himself a spot on the All-ACC First Team.

I don’t mean to imply that Coples doesn’t deserve the honor. I just want to make it clear to anyone not paying attention that Coples, much like Austin benefited greatly by playing beside Tydreke Powell. Powell again showed that in the biggest moments of the biggest games he can be counted on to deliver. In the bowl game against Tennessee Tydreke became a “beast.”

No. 91 was all over the field and, if you watch the tape, you will find that on most plays he was either chasing the ball, occupying two blockers or being held on the play.

He wasn’t limited to just playing defense. With the Heels in need of a touchdown late in the game it was Tydreke playing offense and lining up at fullback to help drive the ball in for a Carolina touchdown.

When The Vols needed a touchdown moments later, it was Tydreke flushing their quarterback out of the pocket (the stat guys missed that one, but the announcer did not) while having his jersey held.

I have said it before and I will say it again. There is a young man, one of our own, doing some special things in Chapel Hill. Pay attention and show some love, with everyone talking about everything that is wrong with college athletics, Tydreke Powell is a great example of what is right.

David Friedman is a long-time contributor to the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald. A Bertie High School graduate, he and his wife currently reside in Wilmington. David can be reached via e-mail at dave@gate811.net.