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CEDAR RAPIDS — Damond Powell wasn’t sure Friday night would ever arrive.
But there was the former University of Iowa receiver, running pass patterns in a regular-season professional football game 18 months after sustaining gunfire wounds to the face and neck.
“I was very, very worried,” Powell said before the Titans lost to the Green Bay Blizzard, 46-13, in an Indoor Football League season opener at the U.S. Cellular Center. “I had a great support system that kept my head up through the tough times and told me, ‘If it is meant to be, it is going to happen again.’ Here we are today. I’m playing football, something I love to do and I’m just blessed and I want to continue to work and win.”
Powell, 24, caught 31 passes for 608 yards with five touchdowns in 20 games for the Hawkeyes from 2013-14. Nearly three months after signing with the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League as an undrafted free agent, Powell was struck by gunfire outside his mother’s home in Toledo, Ohio, on July 24, 2015.
“The side of towns didn’t like each other,” Powell said. “I just so happened to be in town that week that they felt like they needed to retaliate, and they did. Nobody got convicted of the crime. They asked questions and then they let it go. It was completely random. They found 20 shots out there. It was just spraying up the whole block, the whole neighborhood and I just happened to get hit.”
Powell was hospitalized in Toledo for two weeks, then was moved to a hotel for two additional weeks of observation. Once released, Powell contacted his trainer and returned to the gym for two months of limited workouts. Only movement of the neck — which sustained fractures when a bullet lodged itself between the C1 and C2 vertebrae — was off-limits.
“I don’t think it was physically that was the hard part, it was mentally,” Powell said. “Just second-guessing myself, movements that I normally would do, I was second-guessing.”
Powell has been cleared to resume all normal football activities for months and signed with the Titans on Jan. 31. He calls the opportunity to play for another former Iowa receiver in Marvin McNutt “like playing for your big brother.”
“He brings it every day,” McNutt said. “He wants to win. He wants to beat somebody. He doesn’t always talk the most, but he’ll be running fast whatever he’s doing. He’ll bring that and that’s what I need. That’s why I got him.”
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