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Tyler Powell, South Jersey athlete of the year

When P.J. Mehigan thinks back over his eight seasons as Cherokee's football coach, he can recall players who were bigger and faster than Tyler Powell.

When P.J. Mehigan thinks back over his eight seasons as Cherokee's football coach, he can recall players who were bigger and faster than Tyler Powell.

He can recall players who caught more passes, rushed for more yards, and scored more touchdowns than Powell.

He just can't recall a better football player than Powell.

"He's aces," Mehigan said. "In my eight years as a head coach, no single player ever had a bigger impact on a season than Tyler had on this season."

On the football field, Powell played safety and linebacker on defense, running back on offense and excelled on special teams. He did a little of bit of everything for an 11-1 squad that won the South Jersey Group 4 title and was ranked No. 1 in South Jersey.

On the baseball field, Powell batted a team-high .387 as an outfielder. He led the team in extra base hits with 14 and RBIs with 33.

For his two-sport excellence at the highest level of competition, Powell is The Inquirer's South Jersey senior male athlete of the year.

"We really couldn't ask for more from him as a player," Cherokee baseball coach Marc Petragnani said. "He was a great leader and a great player."

More than anything, Powell was a winner during his career at Cherokee. Consider: He was a key player for two teams in two major sports that were ranked No. 1 in South Jersey.

He was a middle-of-the-lineup hitter for the 2009 Cherokee baseball team that was ranked No. 1 in his junior season. He was a top playmaker for the Cherokee football team that held the same distinction at the end of fall season.

The 6-foot, 205-pound Powell didn't put up huge numbers on the football field as an all-South Jersey defensive back (104 tackles, five interceptions, five forced fumbles). But he was an instinctive, all-around player who could tilt the action in the Chiefs' favor in a dozen different ways.

"Growing up, I just developed instincts for the game," Powell said. "I wasn't the biggest guy, fastest guy, strongest guy, but I always was looking to make a play."

Mehigan recalled Cherokee's victory over Williamstown in a clash of unbeatens in the South Jersey Group 4 semifinals.

With the Braves on the verge of seizing the momentum, Powell forced and recovered two fumbles in the second half to lead the Chiefs to victory.

"Statistically, there always were a lot of better guys," Mehigan said. "But there's nobody better than Tyler. He would always find a way to help us win. He would catch a third-down pass. He'd make an interception. He'd change field position with a punt, or he would go block a punt."

Mehigan said Powell was an unquestioned leader of an experienced, accomplished team.

"He has that innate character and leadership quality," Mehigan said.

Petragnani saw the same thing on the baseball field.

"Tyler carried himself with a lot of confidence," Petragnani said. "He was almost cocky but not in a negative way. He stepped on the field expecting to win and he wanted his teammates to feel the same way."

Powell, an all-South Jersey outfielder with a strong arm, plans to attend the University of Delaware as a preferred walk-on for baseball. He said he will play fall baseball for the Blue Hens.

Powell played in some of the biggest games in South Jersey sports in the last few years. Still, he says his high school career passed in a flash.

"It's like I blinked my eyes and it was over," Powell said. "It was the fastest four years ever. I'll cherish the memories. It was absolutely awesome."