After seeing limited action on the field while surrounded by a plethora of talent in his first four years at Clemson, including his redshirt year in 2018, Cornell Powell could have easily decided to enter the NCAA transfer portal, pack up his things and play for another program like so many other players in college football decide to do these days.
But instead of jumping ship, the talented and hardworking wide receiver chose to stick it out at Clemson, and that decision paid off for Powell in a big way as a fifth-year senior this season.
Powell stepped into a leading role and became one of Trevor Lawrence’s primary targets at receiver, taking full advantage of the increased playing time that he earned en route to making the All-ACC team and being invited to the Senior Bowl.
“It was a long journey,” Powell said, reflecting on his career as a Tiger. “Really coming along this last season, but I felt like my previous four years here at Clemson, it allowed me to grow on and off the field and more as a leader and a better person. So, playing this year, I just wanted to go out there and maximize every opportunity that I could.”
Thanks to the NCAA’s decision to give all fall sport athletes an extra year of eligibility, Powell has the option to return to Clemson for a sixth year in 2021 if he so chooses. But if Friday’s Sugar Bowl against Ohio State was his final game in a Clemson uniform, he put an exclamation point on his college career with a strong individual performance.
Although the Tigers fell to the Buckeyes 49-28 in the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup, Powell led all players with 139 receiving yards and finished the contest with two receiving touchdowns among his eight receptions. He scored on a 10-yard pass from Lawrence in the third quarter before adding a second touchdown on a 26-yard pass from Lawrence in the fourth quarter, extending his single-season career high with his seventh touchdown catch of the year.
The 100-yard receiving game was Powell’s team-high fourth of the season, and his eight receptions were the second-most in a game in his career, trailing only his 11-catch performance against Boston College earlier this season.
While the outcome of the game wasn’t what Powell and the Tigers wanted, he feels it wasn’t for a lack of effort nor did it diminish the excellent season he had personally.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get the job done tonight, but I’m still proud of the guys in the locker room for not quitting,” he said. “We went all the way down to the last whistle. We gave it our all, and that’s what being at Clemson’s all about. Regardless of the score, regardless of how much time’s left on the clock, you want to make sure you play every play as hard as you can.
“So, overall, I feel like that I love Clemson and I feel like this year has just been nothing short of special for me.”
After entering the 2020 season with 40 career receptions for 329 yards and three touchdowns across 42 career games, Powell finished the campaign with 53 catches for 882 yards and seven scores in 12 contests.
With his own patience, work ethic and perseverance as a testimony, Powell has a message for other players across the country who may not be happy with their situations and considering taking the easy way out by transferring elsewhere.
“Obviously, guys opt out or transfer for their own personal reasons,” he said. “But I felt like the guys in the locker room, I owed them just to give them my all regardless of the situation. That’s what I committed to when I came to Clemson, and I wasn’t going to quit on them or anyone else who believed in me when I first came to Clemson, and I just wanted to finish what I started. That’s a testament to God for me sticking with it. All glory to him and I wouldn’t be able to do it without him.
“So, I encourage a lot of guys to just fight through it, man. Some days are going to be harder than the others, but I promise you that the fruit of your labors taste way better than leaving and packing it up.”