WACO – The last time first-year Baylor defensive coordinator Matt Powledge called a defense was in 2004 at Huntsville High School.
He wasn't a defensive coordinator. In fact, he wasn’t even an assistant coach for the varsity team. He was still a two-way star as a running back and linebacker — He was calling the defense that day in 2004 for the annual Powderpuff game.
“It was the first time in like 15 years that the juniors beat the seniors. It was a big deal,” Powledge recalled of the Huntsville powderpuff game. “Those girls were so fired up, it was unreal. We had takeaways that game. I still remember Megan Flowers getting a pick and Renee Blanchard getting a sack to end the game. That was my first time calling a defense. My second time will be on September 2 against Texas State.”
Powledge knew he wanted to be a coach since he was in high school but to say Powledge took an interesting route to become a defensive coordinator at a Power Five program is akin to describing I-35 nearby McLane Stadium in Waco on a gameday as 'frustrating'. The word isn’t strong enough.
He lost his father at 12 years old. His stepdad traveled overseas for electrical work setting up military bases in the Middle East, leaving the young Powledge to be the man of the house without knowing how to be the man of the house. That’s where his high school coaches at Huntsville stepped in, specifically Cornell Thompson. Thompson, who became a legendary state championship winning coach at West Orange-Stark, was the defensive coordinator at Huntsville where Powledge started at safety and running back.
“I thought to myself, ‘he has such a big impact on me, I want to have that big of an impact on others,” Powledge said. “I didn’t know what level I wanted to coach or how I was going to get it done, but I wanted to make an impact.”
Powledge's history coaching in Louisiana is what initially put him in the same circles as current Baylor head coach Dave Aranda.
The two first met in 2016 at a satellite camp hosted by LSU while Powledge was coaching at ULM. Les Miles was boycotting Texas programs from attending satellite camps at other Louisiana colleges by offering LSU assistants at those camps instead. Also, their coaches could come work the LSU camp. The young and eager Powledge attended each camp in Baton Rouge. That’s also where he met Jeff Grimes, who he took to the Houston airport after a satellite camp and treated the now Baylor offensive line coach to a shake at his grandparent’s drive-in restaurant near Bush Airport.
Those connections paid off in 2020 when Aranda hired Powledge as safety coach and special teams coordinator in 2020. He left in 2022 to become the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Oregon in 2022, returning to Waco after last season to call defensive plays for only the second time in his life, and the first since he was a high school graduate. He says the plan is the same as it was at the powderpuff field in East Texas nearly 20 years ago.
“Just like then, I’m going to have fun and trust the process,” Powledge grinned. “Believe in myself and have confidence. We put a lot of sweat in the bucket and I know that is what it takes to be good.”
Before he was a coach, the Huntsville native walked-on as a safety for his hometown program Sam Houston State. His playing days would be a preview of his coaching career. He put on so much weight that he was eventually moved from safety to linebacker and then from linebacker to fullback. Then head coach Todd Witten promised Powledge a GA role following his senior year. As it happens in coaching, Witten was let go and replaced by Willie Fritz, and Fritz was already full up on graduate assistants. Powledge, with his parents living nearby, volunteered at Sam Houston until the offensive GA role came open at Southeastern Louisiana in 2010 thanks to his connection with Mike Lucas, a long-time defensive coordinator at Sam Houston who spent his summers coaching Powledge’s little league baseball team.
“Mike told me that a GA flunked out and if I could get there by the end of the next week the job was mine,” Powledge said. “I was there the next day. I was so excited.”
Powledge settled in as a jack-of-all trades offensive grinder who helped out with special teams. He moved to Northwestern State to coach running backs in 2012, hooking up with a pivotal figure in his coaching life – Bradley Dale Peveto. Powledge followed “Peve” to Kentucky, becoming his GA in the secondary and switching over to defense for the first time.
The initial voyage into coaching defense didn’t last long, however. Powledge received a call from home. Well, sort of. New Sam Houston head coach K.C. Keeler heard Powledge was a former player and wanted him to coach running backs and special teams. He accepted the job and spent the 2014 and 2015 season back in Huntsville. Powledge wanted to be an offensive coordinator at that time. He also loved special teams and mentioned Jeff Banks and Joe DeCamillis as road maps. Powledge built a reputation as special teams ace at Sam Houston and for two seasons at UL-Monroe.
And then it all changed with a call from rival Lafayette.
Powledge’s buddy, Rob Sale, convinced him to take the job offer from Billy Napier, who had spent five years at Clemson with Dabo Sweeney and four years at Alabama with Nick Saban. It wasn’t a lateral move. Powledge was convinced.
“I’m going to Lafayette to be the best special teams coach in the world,” he remembered. “The catch? I had to coach defense.”
Powledge became the outside linebacker coach and special teams coordinator at Louisiana in 2018 under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Ron Roberts – the man he'll replace as Baylor's defensive play-caller this weekend.
“It is challenging because I respect Ron and learned a lot of football from him,” Powledge said. “These are big shoes to fill. He was the DC on a Big 12 championship team with a top five defense at this place two years ago.”
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