He set records, now he's out to make them

Mikey Powell, the leading scorer in Syracuse lacrosse, eyes a future as a musician.

Pro Lacrosse

July 23, 2005|By Kate Crandall | Kate Crandall,SUN STAFF

The first time Mikey Powell sang for his mother, she cried.

He was 16 and late coming home for the night. Sue Powell scolded her son and sent him to his room. A half-hour later, Powell crept downstairs, guitar in hand and sang softly for her - a ballad he had written himself.

The song was personal. He cut a vein and put it to music. He sang of a runaway trying to escape his family's expectations, but asking to come home if he could just be himself. Follow no footsteps. Play his own game.

Sue Powell listened and broke down. She knew the piece was autobiographical.

"He mentions that the boy in the song has blue eyes - it's a dead giveaway," she said.

For Powell, now a star in Major League Lacrosse with the undefeated Bayhawks (8-0), that song would ring true years later. Overwhelmed by the pressures of the game last summer, he walked away from the sport that had made him a four-time All-American at Syracuse University and one of lacrosse's seminal players.

In his wake, Powell left two NCAA team championships, USILA Player of the Year honors and two Tewaaraton trophies - the lacrosse equivalent of football's Heisman Trophy.

Tuning out

For three months, he shunned the spotlight and played lacrosse under the radar, scoring goals in his backyard and for a couple of club teams.

For three months, he sidestepped the binding legacy of his two older brothers, Casey and Ryan, both All-Americans who preceded him in high school, at Syracuse and in the pros.

For three months, Mikey Powell - the moniker fits his small, 5-foot-8 frame - just kicked back, played his guitar and lived out that song.

It was in middle school that Powell first felt the eyes of the lacrosse world upon him.

At the 1994 U.S. Lacrosse Youth Festival in Towson, "kids from all over the country lined the field to watch Mike Powell play," said Kirk Ventiquattro, who coached Powell and his brothers at Carthage (N.Y.) High School.

His siblings were stars, said Ventiquattro, but Powell's accelerated ability to improve made him the best.

"The saying goes, `Give Mike Powell five minutes at [a skill] and he'd be better at it than the next guy,'" Ventiquattro said. "There's nothing he couldn't do."

As Powell's skills grew exponentially, he began to ad-lib. That spur-of-the-moment creativity helped him top Syracuse's career scoring list - just ahead of his brothers - despite double and triple teams designed to stop him.

"He did a lot of experimenting on his own, making up new and different moves," said Kevin Donahue, Syracuse's offensive coordinator. "He [trained] privately; you wouldn't know that he did it."

Few also knew of Powell's penchant for music. Increasingly in his off-campus apartment at Syracuse, he would stay home with his guitar, write songs and perfect them - just as he'd crafted his lacrosse game.

"[Music] consumed me," Powell said. "It was kind of a new thing. I always enjoyed being creative. Music, like lacrosse, gave me a similar release."

And when he walked away from lacrosse, music filled the gap.

Music helped lure Powell back into lacrosse as well. In August 2004 he signed a marketing and endorsement contract with Brine, a major lacrosse equipment company. He chose Brine because the company baited him with the chance to pursue a music career as well.

Brine employs Trevor Pryce, a music producer who is creating a CD for the company, a record called The Soundtrack of Lacrosse. For nearly a year, Powell and Pryce have been collaborating on the project, which is due out this fall.

Meanwhile, Powell has returned to the game, helping the Bayhawks' offense by scoring 30 points. But it's music that has brought balance to his life.

"I still get sick of the game sometimes," Powell said. "Lacrosse isn't my entire life, but it's good to be back right now."

Powell's vocal talents could pay the rent, his producer believes.

"He could probably stand alone as a musician," Pryce said. "His music is very slow and passive. His voice sounds like Dave Matthews' - it's very impassioned."

"From [Powell's] talking voice, you wouldn't know it, but when he sings, he can harmonize. But he's still trying to figure out exactly what he's going to sound like."

Facing the music

For Powell, the studio work came slowly. His first trip, Powell spent four hours recording a snippet of one song. Typical for a beginner, Pryce said. But not for someone for whom success has always come easily.

After Powell's first session, "the frustration was written all over his face," Pryce said. "He got a dose of reality that night."

Said Powell: "I'm not used to not being good at something. That is why I love music.

"Music is much more challenging for me than lacrosse. It's intriguing in that I'm not very good at it, and there's so much to learn.

"It's a tough road, and I'll take my bumps. It's something that I'm going to work at for the rest of my life."

For instance, Powell has learned not to force his lyrics, to let the songs write themselves.

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