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Former Gamecock student-athletes find second calling through coaching: 'It's a blessing to pay it forward'

<p>North Greenville head coach Landon Powell celebrates winning the DII baseball national championship with redshirt junior shortstop Cory Bivins on June 10, 2022. North Greenville defeated Point Loma 5-3.</p>
North Greenville head coach Landon Powell celebrates winning the DII baseball national championship with redshirt junior shortstop Cory Bivins on June 10, 2022. North Greenville defeated Point Loma 5-3.

Landon Powell was at a crossroads in the middle of the 2013 baseball season.

He was nearing the end of his professional career and had recently been cut by the New York Mets in spring training. The University of South Carolina baseball alumni was sent to the Mets' minor-league affiliate in Las Vegas, a city he said was 鈥the last place I wanted to be.鈥

Playing baseball in Las Vegas meant Powell was thousands of miles away from his wife, who stayed at the couple鈥檚 home in Greenville. The two were also mourning the loss of their daughter, who passed away during the previous offseason.

Although he wanted to play out his contract, Powell decided to retire after conversations with one of his teammates and his manager, who suggested that Powell should become a baseball coach

The thought was not foreign to Powell, who spent his childhood watching his father coach baseball and football teams.

鈥淚 always had that feeling that, 鈥楳an, I鈥檓 a coach at heart, and I just love the game, and it鈥檚 hard to think that I鈥檒l retire from playing and step away from the game completely,鈥欌 Powell said.

Powell landed a job as the head baseball coach of North Greenville University soon after stepping away from professional baseball. He has since won a national championship in 2022 and five conference titles during 10 years at the helm.

Coaching has provided an opportunity to serve as a leader and leave a positive impact on the next generation of players across multiple sports for many former Gamecock student-athletes, including Powell. 

Former South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley also knew at an early age that he wanted to get involved with coaching. After spending time in the college ranks as a graduate assistant at Florida Atlantic and as a quarterbacks coach at North Alabama, he is now the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Rock Hill High School's football team.

Bentley said he learned a lot from his father Bobby Bentley, a veteran high school football coach who won four state championships in his career.

鈥淔rom an actual technical football standpoint, we weren鈥檛 the normal family that got to watch Saturday football games. He would pause it and ask us coverage and 鈥榃hat route is this?鈥欌 Bentley said. 鈥淥n the other side of that, I saw what type of impact he made for 20 years-worth of kids, whether it was as simple as coming over to eat dinner with us or staying extra.鈥

Other former student-athletes rely on their prior coaches for insight into the profession rather than family members. 

Olivia Gaines, who was recently hired to be the head women鈥檚 basketball coach at Allen University, said she drew inspiration from Gamecock head women鈥檚 basketball coach Dawn Staley. Staley coached Gaines, a former South Carolina women's basketball player, for two seasons.

鈥淎ny time I have any questions, whether it鈥檚 on the court or some off-the-court stuff, she鈥檚 always there. If I call her right now, she鈥檇 answer. If she doesn鈥檛, she鈥檇 call me back in the next five minutes,鈥 Gaines said. 鈥淥ur relationship is very strong, and I鈥檓 happy to have her in my corner.鈥

Carlos Powell, a former South Carolina men's basketball player who is now the head basketball coach at Gray Collegiate Academy, said he picked the brain of four-time high school state champion basketball coach Yerrick Stoneman early in his coaching career.

"He's a guy that, before I got there (Ridgeview High School), they won a lot of championships. His record spoke for itself. His rapport with the kids spoke for itself," Powell said. "I was just a sponge to him and just tried to see how he did things."

Outside of mentorship, each coach also had to make adjustments to their lifestyles as they transitioned from their coaching to playing careers. Bentley said the time commitment aspect of coaching was something that differed from that of a player. 

鈥淵ou kind of go to practice, watch some film, and then you get to play video games for the rest of the night,鈥 Bentley said. 鈥淵ou don鈥檛 really see the hours of true work behind the scenes, so it kind of gave me a different appreciation for all the coaches I had and the time they put in.鈥

For Gaines, communicating with and growing closer with her players is something she learned was vital to a college basketball coach鈥檚 success.

"I think that's why a lot of coaches fail because, sometimes, they fail to build relationships with kids," Gaines said. "Kids come from different backgrounds and things like that, so just taking the time to get to know them because, at the end of the day, they're people, too."

Landon Powell said those relationship-building skills carried over to college baseball as well.

鈥淚 want to have a more loose, fun relationship with them, where they feel like they can call me about anything and talk to me at any time," Landon Powell said. "I鈥檝e had players call me at 1 a.m. to tell me stuff and talk to me and wake me up in the middle of the night, and I love that.鈥

Former Gamecock student-athletes find second calling through coaching- 'It's a blessing to pay it forward' Pull Quote.png

These kinds of relationships can make or break a player, Carlos Powell said. He added that he strives to be a motivating figure for his players to help them achieve their athletic goals.

鈥淎 coach can change your life, in a good way or a bad way. But I鈥檓 more for the positive,鈥 Carlos Powell said. 鈥淪eeing them grow as individuals is probably the best feeling. Just watching them tackle something they thought they couldn鈥檛 accomplish 鈥 that鈥檚 the biggest joy for me.鈥

Bentley said he aims to leave a lasting impression on his players by teaching them valuable lessons about life outside of football.

鈥(I鈥檓) making sure that they understand that, 鈥楳an, I鈥檓 using the game, I鈥檓 using this opportunity to play football as an avenue to make an impact on those around me,鈥欌 Bentley said. 鈥淲hen you can truly see those guys start to, that lightbulb kind of lights up in their head, and it鈥檚 not just about them anymore. They鈥檙e finding a way every day to pick a guy up.鈥

Carlos Powell said that coaching has helped his career come full circle, as he is helping players who find themselves in a position he used to be in.

鈥淵ou鈥檙e leading the guys down a path that a lot of kids want to go to or have dreams and aspirations,鈥 Carlos Powell said. 鈥淚鈥檝e been one of those kids. I鈥檝e been a high school kid and had the opportunity to play college basketball and play professional basketball. For a guy like myself, it鈥檚 a blessing to pay it forward.鈥


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