Christian Powell never viewed football quite like this — from seven yards behind the line of scrimmage.
He was a fullback. His high school buddy was the tailback. Then Colorado Coach Jon Embree changed Powell’s job description.
Powell, a 6-foot, 235-pound freshman from Upland, went from being a guy who could block out the sun to one who runs to daylight. He was moved to tailback two weeks ago and hasn’t looked back.
“It just happened,” Powell said. “I’m just going with it.”
This was not the career path Powell was on when he switched his commitment from UCLA to Colorado in January, deciding to join Upland High teammates Donta Abron and Marques Mosley in Boulder.
Powell rolled up 400 yards rushing, averaging 10 yards per carry, at Upland last year. But his main job was clearing the way for Abron, who had 1,754 yards rushing for a 12-1 Upland team.
But instead of blocking in front of Abron, Powell is playing in front of him. Powell has 265 yards rushing to lead the Buffaloes, who play UCLA in Boulder on Saturday afternoon.
“They put me in a couple packages in practice one week,” Powell said. “I was like, ‘All right, I’ll try it.’ But I didn’t think it would last that long.”
Powell’s presence at tailback took almost everyone by surprise.
He gained five yards in his first carry against Sacramento State, but the public address announcer at Folsom Field announced Tony Jones as the ballcarrier. Powell rambled 64 yards in his third carry, only to have Jones again credited with the run.
Finally, the announcer caught on. Jones, after all, is considerably smaller at 5-7, 190.
Powell finished with 147 yards and scored three touchdowns in the 30-28 loss.
“It’s different being seven yards deep,” Powell said. “It’s been an adjustment. You have to do more reading as a runner. You’re trying to get yards instead of trying to clear people.”
Powell’s size can be a problem for defenses.
“We’ve got to get him before he gets going,” UCLA safety Tevin McDonald said. “We can’t hit him high.”
It almost wasn’t an issue for McDonald and the Bruins. Powell was a catch as a fullback, and it looked like UCLA had snared him. He committed to the Bruins in January but flipped two weeks later and followed his friends to Colorado.
“I felt the best opportunity for me was up here,” Powell said. “I was sorting it all out and talking it over with my mom. We both felt like this was the place where I would feel comfortable. We felt like I had the best chance up here.”
Abron and Mosley had already arrived at that decision. All three have played this season. The Buffaloes (1-3) have played 13 first-year freshmen so far.
Abron has 12 yards rushing in six carries. Mosley, a reserve safety, intercepted a pass.
Powell, though, has the heaviest workload. His 147 yards against Sacramento State were the sixth-most by a Colorado freshman. His three touchdowns tied a school single-game record for freshmen.
Last Saturday, in Colorado’s first win of the season, over Washington State, Powell ran for 66 yards in a team-high 16 carries.
“This is not a back you’re just going to knock down,” UCLA Coach Jim Mora said. “You’re going to have to gang tackle him.”