RICHLAND -- When Richland High School linebacker Sawyer Powell arrived the first week of July at Nike's The Opening football camp in Beaverton, Ore., he had to wonder who was "the guy."
In a sea of 150 of the country's most elite players, would somebody emerge from the group and blow the scouts' socks off?
"I was definitely nervous. I knew everybody there was going to be really fast and strong," said Powell, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior. "I was definitely looking for the best and seeing how I measured up to them."
Turns out he measured up just fine.
In fact, among a talent pool considered by scouts to be strongest at linebacker, Powell turned out to be one of the camp's biggest surprises. He registered the 13th best SPARQ (Strength, Power, Agility, Reaction, Quickness) rating overall and fourth best among the 23 linebackers.
"I should've been like ninth, but there was a little mess-up with my (medicine) ball throw," Powell said.
Two of his tests were off the charts for a linebacker. His vertical jump of 40.3 inches was third overall, and his shuttle time of 4.02 seconds was 12th overall and tops among his fellow backers.
Once the camp results went public, the shock waves made it back to Richland in a hurry.
"Here's a funny story," Bombers head coach Mike Neidhold said. "He goes down there over the weekend and went crazy. I got in my car at 7 a.m. Monday heading to work. It's a 10-minute drive from my house to Richland High School, and I got three phone calls from BYU, Oregon State and Washington State.
"I'm like, what in the world is going on?"
Talent, coach. That's what's going on. Upside. Potential. The magic words that compel college coaches to make travel plans.
Powell still has some things to learn as far as keeping the game in front of him, but as far as pure physical tools, he's already there. BYU locked him up on scholarship to begin next fall.
"Sawyer has all the capabilities. There's not many guys like that. He's a good kid, and he's dependable," Richland linebackers coach Greg Sevigny said.
"The thing he needs to work on is finishing his package as a football player -- becoming a better reader, making sure he's aligned correctly, knowing where to be and knowing what the offense is."
Powell had some good role models last season, playing alongside senior linebackers Joel Teats and Grant Gallinger, who provided an example of what is expected of a Bombers defender.
"They pushed me to be the best I could be," Powell said. "They always worked together to make our defense better."
It was better. The best in the CBBN 4A, holding opponents to a little more than 4 yards a play and 12.3 points a game. But they might have saved their best for the playoffs and Gonzaga Prep star running back Bishop Sankey.
"He's an amazing running back, but coach Sev determined that we weren't going to let him have anything," Powell said. "We went out there inspired."
The Bombers held Sankey, now at the University of Washington, to a season-low 153 yards in a 21-7 victory over Prep at Fran Rish Stadium.
Neidhold hopes for more games like that this season. He has no doubt that Powell is up to the challenge of leading another strong Richland defense.
"We ask our outside guys to do a lot of things," Neidhold said. "No. 1, he has to stop the run, but he also has to be able to figure out when they're trying to trick him and get back into pass coverage."
But when push comes to shove, he knows Powell will be in the mix.
"His best thing is running stuff down," Neidhold said. "If the play is away, he'll get there. If anybody's coming around his side, he'll get you."
* Jack Millikin: 509-582-1406; email@example.com
Editor's note: This concludes a series of seven feature stories on CBBN 3A-4A Tri-City football players that will kick off the 2011 high school season. The Tri-City Herald's prep football preview section will be in Friday's edition.