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(Editor's note: Neal McCready and a University of Mississippi news release contributed to this report.)
The Jerrell Powe saga is over.
No longer will there be questions of if he will be cleared. Instead, there will just be questions such as how big an impact he will make, how long he will stay before going to the NFL, and how good he will make the Ole Miss defensive line.
The University of Mississippi announced Monday that Powe will be eligible to practice and compete during the upcoming 2008 football season.
Powe, a defensive tackle from Waynesboro, Miss., was permitted to enroll at Ole Miss last year and receive financial aid, but could not practice or compete in order to concentrate on his academic development. Powe has met university academic requirements, has fulfilled NCAA continuing eligibility standards and is now cleared for full participation.
Following completion of Powe's summer academic courses, the University asked the Southeastern Conference office for an interpretation of SEC Bylaw 18.104.22.168 in effect at the time of his enrollment.
The SEC informed the University of the following, "Under SEC legislation in place at the time of Mr. Powe's initial enrollment at the University of Mississippi during the fall semester 2007, a partial qualifier may be deemed eligible after successfully completing an academic year in residence including fulfillment of NCAA progress toward degree requirements. The NCAA's action of September 7, 2007 effectively made Mr. Powe a partial qualifier; therefore, based upon his academic record at the University of Mississippi he is deemed eligible under SEC Bylaws."
"Jerrell has been a student at Ole Miss for the last year, and has met academic requirements as established by the NCAA and the University of Mississippi," said Ole Miss Athletics Director Pete Boone in a statement released Monday. "We are pleased that Jerrell will now become a student-athlete. It has been a long process and it is now time to move forward."
"We are excited that Jerrell is getting this opportunity and will be able to join the team for preseason practice," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt added in the statement.
Ole Miss will begin preseason drills on Monday, Aug. 4, and will open the 2008 season at home against the University of Memphis.
Powe had been fully rejected by the NCAA on two occasions, but college athletics' governing body permitted Powe to enroll at Ole Miss on scholarship last year, but not play football.
Powe, a 6-foot-3, 342 pound defensive lineman, was named the top prospect in the nation in 2005. He was heavily recruited by Auburn, but the Tigers backed off due to grade issues and Powe surprised college football fans when he committed at the US Army All-American Bowl to LSU in January 2005.
However, then-new Rebel head coach Ed Orgeron, who had an excellent reputation for recruiting and building All-American defensive linemen at Southern California, swayed Powe from LSU on National Signing Day.
Predictions that Powe was in serious academic trouble proved correct and he enrolled at Hargrave Military Academy in August 2005. Eligible to be re-recruited by any school after enrolling at Hargrave, Powe again verbally committed to Ole Miss shortly after his arrival at Chatham, Va. He signed with Ole Miss again in 2006 and was expected to be ruled eligible after a year at the prep school where he scored a reported 18 on his ACT.
The NCAA had other plans, however. The organization questioned the amount of work Powe had done in a short period and denied him academic clearance and gave him an option to either enroll in a junior college or work to remedy his academic shortcomings.
Powe elected to work partime for the Wayne County Sheriff's Department in the fall of 2006 and spring of 2007 while continuing to work to meet requirements imposed by the NCAA. He appeared poised to be cleared in 2007 and was allowed to enroll at Ole Miss last August and was granted a 14-day waiver to practice with the team while the NCAA reviewed volumes of academic records.
The 14-day waiver period came and went without a ruling, but the NCAA allowed a second waiver that permitted Powe to continue to practice while the NCAA requested and received even more documentation that was furnished by his attorney, Don Jackson.
Late last August, the NCAA ruled that Powe had to attend school and meet NCAA and institutional academic requirements in college for a year before playing football. A news release by the NCAA said the staff expressed concern that Powe completed a significant amount of coursework in an unusually limited amount of time. That determination led the staff to invalidate a portion of Powe's academic high school records.
Under the ruling, Powe was allowed to attend school and receive financial aid, but was not eligible to play football.
The NCAA ruling forced Ole Miss officials to request, after the fact, a waiver of SEC rules from the league that permitted Powe to attend Ole Miss.
Under the ruling, the SEC was empowered to make a final determination if Powe had made sufficient academic progress to be allowed to play football this fall.
Ole Miss officials privately expressed some reservations earlier this spring about Powe being allowed to play this fall despite unofficial reports of him doing well in school and passing at least the 24 hours required of freshmen to be eligible to play as sophomores and doing so with a GPA around the 2.8 range.
However, action taken by the SEC last month at the annual conference apparently has enhanced the possibility of Powe being deemed eligible.
At the conference, the SEC re-wrote legislation that relaxed initial eligibility requirements for non-qualifiers out of high school and gave SEC commissioner Mike Slive more power to rule in non-qualifier cases.
"Basically, the SEC's initial eligibility rules will generally mirror the NCAA's, which allow some non-qualifiers to attend school and try to get their grades up before competing," athletics director Pete Boone recently told the Clarion Ledger. "The one caveat is that any non-qualifier still has to be approved by the (SEC) commissioner."
Jackson, Powe's attorney told RebelSports.net that while he was disappointed in the NCAA's ruling last summer, he was pleased with the outcome of the situation because Powe's case caused the change to the SEC rules which will benefit many more athlete's who are in situations similar to Powe's.
Statement released by Jerrell Powe
"I am deeply grateful to Ole Miss and to the SEC for the opportunity to be admitted here and to prove that I can succeed academically and on the football field. I have always had faith and a plan and both are beginning to show results.
"Through God's help and help from Ole Miss professors, counselors and coaches, I have successfully completed my first year of school at Ole Miss. However, my journey is just beginning. I have to continue to work hard in the classroom, and I still must prove myself on the football field in the SEC.
"Therefore, I have decided that I don't deserve to give interviews yet, and that I will not give any interviews until such time as I have proven myself both in the classroom and on the football field. The teachers and the coaches will make that decision for me.
"Thank you for your interest in me. However, there are other Ole Miss student-athletes who are more deserving of your time and interest since they have already proven themselves.
"Thank you and God bless ..... Jerrell Powe #57"