A laid back guy of few words, when Bilal Powell was picked by the Jets in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft at Louisville, he would have been safe to say his first thought wasn’t to order a namesake bling.
“I had a very small meeting in my apartment, and my wife missed it. She was actually in the break room,” Powell laughed. “My friend, when he heard my name, he started screaming his name and everyone was going crazy. I just sat in silence because you dream about that moment. And when that moment finally comes, it doesn’t just doesn’t seem real.”
Powell knew for sure it was real when he, New York’s only running back drafted and the only rookie running back to make the team, showed up to the Jets and met one of his new teammates – three-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
“Talk about a Hall of Famer. One of the things I did early in my career was become a sponge,” Powell said. “I learned as much knowledge as possible from a guy like that. I grew up watching him and had the opportunity to play pretty much behind him and watch how he moves, especially to see how he prepares on and off the pitch, that was pretty much a blessing to me as a young man.”
Playing in just two games and rushing for 21 yards in his freshman season, Powell was certainly downhearted, but also found it a beneficial learning experience.
“LaDainian Tomlinson was cheering me on every day, telling me to stay the course,” Powell said. “He always talked about preparation and the fact that I always had to be prepared because the last thing I wanted was to lose an opportunity because I was unprepared. I always took that to heart.”
In 2017, Powell’s seventh season, more than double the average length of an NFL career, he led the Jets with a career-high 772 rushing yards and five touchdowns. What does he accredit it to?
“I think it was the guys I had around me talking about plans that pretty much matched my attributes. And the guys up front,” Powell said. “It’s hard to take all the credit for a successful year. You always look at the game plan and the coaches put the players in the best position that suits them and suits them.”
Seven games into the 2018 season, Powell had 343 rushing yards, 110 receiving yards and a touchdown, before injuring his neck and moving to injured reserve. Returning the following year, his teammates voted for him to receive the Ed Block Courage Award, which recognizes a player as a model of inspiration, sportsmanship and courage.
“I’m a guy who doesn’t talk a lot, but it meant a lot to me because it just shows the respect guys had for me in the locker room,” Powell said. “And I worked really hard to come back. So to be voted on by guys that you go to work with every day and go to war with every day, that meant a lot to me.”
With New York for nine seasons, 2011-19, Powell is eighth among the Jets’ all-time leading rushers with 3,675 yards. Seventy-five of them had a touchdown against Jacksonville on October 1, 2017.
Midway through the first quarter at MetLife Stadium, Josh McCown threw the ball to Powell, who traveled 7 yards and fell to the turf. He then got up as quickly as he had come down and sprinted another 68 yards to the end zone.
That game, which helped the Jets win 23-20 in overtime, is one of Powell’s fondest memories with the Greens and Whites.
“I saw the coaching mentality come out because coach (running back) Anthony Lynn, who coached me for about four years, I remember him always saying, ‘Hey, don’t stop. not until the whistle blows,'” Powell said. “Sometimes as a player things get repetitive and sometimes you overlook certain things, the little things that make a difference. And so this run, understanding that I didn’t get hit, and just getting up and running, I think pretty much sums up my career.”
Powell’s career with the Jets officially ended on April 26, 2022 when he signed a one-day contract with the team and retired.
“It meant a lot to me because I always wanted to be a Jet. When I got out of college, they showed the most interest in me,” Powell said. “At the time, Rex Ryan was there as head coach. You had Anthony Lynn. You had (general manager) Mike Tannenbaum. Those guys give me the opportunity to live my dreams, I have always wanted to be a guy who wanted to be on the same team throughout my career.
“So just to see it come full circle, to say, ‘Hey, I came to this league as a Jet and left this league as a Jet’, I don’t think a lot of guys can say that. .”
Powell and his wife, Jessica, have three children: Amara, Nya and Tavis; and settled in Louisville, Kentucky.
“I build custom homes, and my wife works alongside me as a realtor and interior designer,” Powell said. “And I work alongside Tom Waller Signature Homes. Tom Waller is the president of the Building Industry Association here in Louisville, and I’m looking to take over his business as he walks me through this case.
“I’ve always been interested in real estate and really wanted to start flipping houses. This opportunity came when Bob Merritt, who is a good friend of mine and is very well known in the industry as a developer, as a real estate agent and as a builder, said to me, “If you’re looking to get into any type of construction, I would suggest new home construction.
“So I kind of tried the idea, and when I got involved, I started liking it. It was one of those things where my wife was interested in doing the same thing and we just became a partnership.”
Very hands-on, Powell is the general contractor on every project and builds homes for clients and to specification. He currently has three homes under construction, recently sold one and is looking to list another.
“It’s the difference in the business I was in before where you pay for production, and now you pay for completion,” Powell laughed. “It’s a little different.”
What does he enjoy most about what he does?
“Just to see everything we put on paper come to life and every step that comes with the process,” Powell said. “You start with the floor planning. You start with the permit. Just the whole thing, it’s step by step, from A to Z.
“I really, really like doing it. And I think the best builders are not them as the builder, it’s having the sub-contractors working. I think that’s what separates some builders from the other builders, their subcontractors.”
The Powells are also building a second business.
“My wife and I are at the beginning of creating a wine. The name is 29th and 9th,” Powell said, “29th, which is my number, and 9th was inspired by being in New York for nine years, and New York being a big part of our lives. It’s New Jersey, New York inspired in the colors, in the name, in the design.