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BYU safety Sawyer Powell, 25, is one of the oldest players in college football; He’s also one of the most persistent

Longtime Cougar got his first career start last Saturday in 29-26 double-overtime win over Tennessee, said it was ‘worth the wait’

BYU defensive back Sawyer Powell poses for a photo at the Indoor Training Facility at BYU in Provo on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019.

PROVO — Defensive back Sawyer Powell got his degree in global supply chain management from BYU’s Marriott School of Business about 18 months ago, had his football scholarship taken away in 2018 after undergoing back surgery in 2017 and has started in only one game in his career despite having joined the program way back in 2012.

Most perennial backups no longer on scholarship with that much pine time in their past and future, probably, would have moved on by now, taken one of several lucrative job offers Powell has received and called it a career. But Powell, who is from West Richland, Washington, keeps plugging away, and paying his own way.

He’s the guy coaches can’t seem to get rid of. Nor do they want to.

“I am really just here for football, I guess,” he said Tuesday after practice as the Cougars continued preparations for Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. game against No. 24 USC at LaVell Edwards Stadium. “It was a hard decision to come back because I had a lot of (employment) opportunities already presented to me. But you only get to play football once, so here I am.”

That determination and perseverance was rewarded last Saturday when Powell, who turns 26 in December and is easily the oldest player on the team, was awarded the start at free safety against Tennessee by safeties coach Preston Hadley. Powell made four solo stops and four assisted tackles in the 29-26 win in double overtime, tying for third-most takedowns on the team.

Alas, it might be the only start of Powell’s career, because flash linebacker Zayne Anderson has been moved to free safety in what coaches are calling an attempt to get the best 11 players on the field. Promising sophomore Chaz Ah You will get the start at flash against the Trojans.

It’s just another tough break for Powell, whose career has been full of them, but he remains undeterred.

“It was a lot of fun to get my first start — it was worth the wait,” he said with a laugh. “I plan on starting more throughout this season, so I hope that’s not my only one.”

Really, Powell is grateful to still be playing, because toward the end of last season he thought he might be out of eligibility. But the NCAA granted him a medical hardship waiver because he missed the entire 2017 season with a back injury that required a surgical procedure called diskectomy.

So he’s a sixth-year senior, having redshirted as a freshman in 2012. He served a mission to Montevideo, Uruguay, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2013 and 2014. Last year, despite not being on scholarship, Powell played in all 13 games and made 22 tackles. He had a career-high five tackles against Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl and forced a fumble.

“I felt like I had a really good chance to get a lot of playing time and fight for a starting spot, so I came back,” he said. “I have had a lot of injuries, a lot of missed opportunities, and have never really been satisfied with what I have done here. I felt like this was my last chance, so I wanted to take advantage of it.”

Ironically, the assistant coach making the playing time decisions for the safeties, Hadley, was teammates with Powell in 2012. Current NFL players Kyle Van Noy and Daniel Sorensen were also on that BYU team that beat San Diego State 23-6 in the Poinsettia Bowl.

“He’s old, but he brings a lot of experience,” Hadley said. “We played together, so it is nice to have him around. He is a reliable player who is sound in his assignments. You can trust him out there.”

Powell said he’s been splitting reps with Anderson in practice this week and still believes he will play a lot, even if he doesn’t get to start again. Redshirt freshman Hayden Livingston, also a walk-on, got the start at free safety against Utah and is also still in the mix.

“We might end up having a rotation between the three of us, but we will see,” Powell said. Starting strong safety “Austin Lee never wants to come out, and I never want to come out, either, so we will see what happens.”

Lee’s backup is sophomore Malik Moore, who was temporarily moved to cornerback but is now back with the safeties.

Anderson, who also received an extra year of eligibility after sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury last September, said Powell is one of the most determined athletes he’s ever been around.

“He’s just a guy who really, really wants to play,” Anderson said. “He’s a walk-on now and what drives him is to show people what he can do and try to prove them wrong. He’s done a really good job with that.”

Powell said he loves football too much to walk away from it with eligibility remaining, even if he has to pay his own way. Along with the back injury, his career was also plagued by a fractured hand and a bunch of hamstring issues.

“They have been talking to me, telling me I am possibly going to get (a scholarship again),” he said good-naturedly. “I am still waiting on that promise — you can put that in your article.”

Because maybe persistency will pay off — again.