When people ask Jalen Powe where he is from, he has an unconventional answer.
“I tell them Six Flags,” the Gurnee native said.
Like the roller coasters at the famed theme park in his hometown, Powe’s path to Western Illinois University has been filled with twists and turns.
After playing two sports at Warren Township High School, Powe opted for football at College of DuPage. Though he had some Division II offers, Powe chose to walk-on at Division I Western Illinois.
Now a redshirt senior, Powe has more than earned his scholarship. Earlier this season, the 6-foot, 215-pounder registered seven tackles (six solo), a tackle-for-loss and a pass breakup against third-ranked North Dakota.
Get to know Jalen Powe through today’s Prairie State Pigskin Moving the Chains Q&A.
Growing up, how often did you go to Six Flags Great America?
I can’t even tell you. So many. If I’d go now, it would be boring. I’ve been there so many times. I know everything about Six Flags.
What was your favorite ride?
When I was little I was scared of heights, so roller coasters weren’t my thing. But as I got older, Raging Bull became my favorite. I rode that non-stop. American Eagle was an older one, but it was good. The new ride they have, Goliath (is a favorite). They also had an old one that’s been discontinued that I rode, Iron Wolf.
You played both baseball and football at Warren Township. Having gone the football route, how much do you miss baseball?
I miss baseball a lot. My dad works for the Chicago White Sox (as director of park operations). He’s been there for years. I was around baseball 24/7. Any chance I get to play when I go back home, I do. I go with my buddies and play catch or go hit baseballs. I do miss it, but football is my main focus right now.
What are some of your favorite White Sox memories?
I went to the first game of the World Series back in ’05. That was an unbelievable experience. I was seven or eight, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. That’s the coolest one.
I was also at the game where Jim Thome hit his 500th home run. I watched Mark Buehrle’s perfect game. That was really fun too.
I’ve been to so many, but those were my favorites.
What is the best thing about playing junior college football?
Meeting different kinds of people from all over. Everyone comes from different backgrounds. There are so many stories out there, and they are amazing.
What is the biggest challenge about playing junior college football?
The toughest part is the first time being on your own out of high school. There were no scholarships. There is no meal plan. You have to make food for yourself and be on your own.
Recruiting was also a big thing. That was my last chance.
How did you wind up at Western Illinois University?
At the end of my second year (at COD), I was talking to some schools, but they weren’t really what I had in mind. I really wanted to go to a Division I school. I had Division II offers, but I had the same offers while I was in high school.
I was determined to keep trying, to keep sending my my tape out. The (WIU) linebacker coach, Coach (Deion) Melvin talked to me. He contacted me every day and gave me a walk-on opportunity. I took it because it was my only thing. It took it and ran with it. Here I am three years later (as a scholarship athlete); it all worked out.
As a defensive back, do you get more of a thrill out of a big hit or a pass breakup or an interception?
To be honest, I haven’t had an interception so I don’t know what it feels like. But, I have had a couple of TFLs, tackles-for-loss and sacks. I get joy out of those because as a defensive back you don’t get a lot of those. When I got those chances, I try to make the most out of them.
You switched to uniform No. 0 this season. This is the first year the NCAA has allowed anyone to wear that. How did you come to get that jersey number?
I honestly didn’t even know that was going to be a thing until I got a call from my coach when I was at home. He said, “The NCAA is allowing zero. Would you like to have it?” I took it. It’s an honor to be the first one ever to wear it at Western. That’s something I really care about. I’m in the history books and 0 is a cool number. Plus, my favorite NBA player (Damian Lillard) wears it.
Taking Western Illinois out of the picture, what team in the Missouri Valley Football Conference has the best uniforms?
I like North Dakota. The black and green is really nice; I like that. I think they have the best ones to be honest.
North Dakota State too. The green . . . I don’t know why, but the green is something. I like it.
The Grammy Awards had a reported 53 percent drop in viewership from last year. Did you watch?
No, I’ve never watched the Grammys, but my little sister is a Beyonce fanatic so as soon as she won, I heard all about it.
What kind of music do you like?
R&B and hip hop. A little bit of rock because my dad listened a lot. Like AC/DC. That’s pretty much it.
Who is the best singer on the WIU football team?
My fellow linebacker, Greg Benton. He has the best voice on the team. Quote me on that.