In August, Vance High coach Aaron Brand was doing an interview about his quarterback, Nigel Summerville, who threw for nearly 3,000 yards in 2017 and was gearing up for a big senior season.
But he couldn’t stop talking about a sophomore linebacker on his team named Power Echols. Echols, just 15 years old, has college interest from national powers Penn State and Clemson. He has offers from Appalachian State, Maryland, North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia Tech.
“He’s the real deal,” Brand repeated, even as he was answering questions about his quarterback. “I think he’s the best defensive player in the city.”
Four weeks into the high school football season, Brand - whose team plays Mallard Creek Saturday night at UNC Charlotte - is still saying the same thing. But after watching Echols dominate on a team that’s allowing just 10 points per game, Brand is raising the stakes a little.
“He’s good, man,” Brand said Thursday night after the Mallard Creek-Vance junior varsity game. “He’ll be the best player Vance has ever had.”
That would catapult Echols past former Cougars stars like quarterback Paul Troth, who ranks No. 10 all-time in Mecklenburg County career passing yards, UNC sophomore defensive back Myles Dorn, East Carolina quarterback Kingsley Ifedi and former South Carolina linebacker Larenz Bryant, who was a four-star top 100 recruit coming out of high school.
But Brand is far from alone in his high praise for Echols, who is 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds.
Sam Greiner was head coach at Harding last season when he coached against Vance in the N.C. 4A regional championship game. He said he was “amazed” when Echols, then a 180-pound freshman, launched himself to stop Harding’s 6-3, 230-pound running back Quavaris Crouch for a loss in the backfield.
Crouch, perhaps the top high school player in the nation this season, didn’t have that happen too often.
“He didn’t play like a freshman then,” Greiner said. “He played like a freshman in college. His instinct and explosion are un-coachable, as is his vision and just knowing where to go. Man, I would take him. I’d love to have him. Larenz Bryant was good when I was (defensive coordinator at Vance) and he’s probably the best linebacker to come through there. This kid has a higher ceiling as long as he continues to do what they’re asking him to do.”
Echols was named after the Emmy Award-winning actor Powers Boothe. His mom, Star Robinson, saw Boothe on TV, liked the name and removed the last S.
Star Robinson was a Division I basketball player at Western Michigan. Power’s father, Brian Echols, played football at Michigan State. Power’s uncle played basketball at Indiana Tech, an NAIA school, and his grandfather played as a 6-foot-2, 190-pound running back in the 1974 North-South all-star football game in Indiana, a version of the Shrine Bowl held in the Carolinas every year.
“Everybody on both sides of Power’s family are athletes,” Robinson said. “He had no choice.”
Today, Echols carries a 4.1 grade-point average, taking almost all honors classes and his coach says he is a throwback player to another time.
“He’s a little bit strange,” Brand said jokingly, “and he doesn’t mind it. He’s the only (middle) linebacker in the city who wears skateboard shoes. He doesn’t wear gloves in the games. He tapes up his wrists and he goes.”
Echols said that old-school spirit was ingrained in him by his athletic family.
“The old-school game was pure,” he said. “People played hard and nobody cared about the weather or looking pretty. It was football at its purest.”
Echols said he knows he’s a little different than his peers in his outlook. He tends to listen to rap music that has a positive message, featuring lots of ‘90s stars like Outkast and Talib Kweli with a little bit of current guys like Kendrick Lamar and J Cole tossed in.
“It’s hip-hop as its supposed to be,” he said. “Its’ a message, a story. It’s enlightening you and teaching you something. It’s poetry. It’s an art. I mean, I don’t listen to a lot of current stuff. A lot of it is garbage and I don’t like following trends. Everybody does it, but who’s leading you? Who’s telling you this is cool? You don’t know, so I stay in my own lane.”
Brand said that type of focus and attitude has a lot to do with Echols’ success.
“He’s just relentless,” Brand said. “He just plays harder than everybody else around him. He practices harder. He’s got outstanding knowledge. He’s just more attentive than everybody. The most amazing thing is his consistency at such a young age.”
Echols said he appreciates the attention and college opportunities, but he said he doesn’t have much time to think about any of it. He is looking much further ahead.
“All of this is really humbling and at the same time it fuels the fire,” he said. “This is a dangerous sport and at any time, I could not be able to play anymore, so I take it and keep working harder. I’ve got a really big goal with my whole life. My bigger goal is to go to the NFL and make it to the Hall of Fame. With that goal set, I know I can accomplish almost anything. And I can’t fail. Man, I’ve got no room for failure.”