Newberry’s Hester, Powers sign with Mercer University

(From left) Newberry's Jonathan Powers and Wyatt Hester signed to play football at Mercer College on Tuesday.
(From left) Newberry's Jonathan Powers and Wyatt Hester signed to play football at Mercer College on Tuesday.
Photo by Mike Ridaught

Newbery football players Wyatt Hester and Jonathan Powers have played football together since middle school.

On Tuesday in the Newberry auditorium, the duo signed their national letters of intent (NLI) to continue playing football together by inking with Division-I Mercer University in Macon (GA).

“It’s a testament to their hard work, their dedication,” said Newberry football coach Ed Johnson. “They’ve been students of the game, guys we’ve had in the program for four years. It’s sweet to see them grow from 14-year-olds now to 18-year-old young men.”

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Both of their recruiting processes were slow.

The duo went on a visit to Mercer their junior year.

However, neither of them was recruited by the school until football season was already over.

“It was pretty slow,” Powers said. “We went on a visit in February and that’s when they offered us. That’s why they have a special place of both of our hearts because they were the first team to really reach out to us and take a chance on us.”

Powers, who finished his senior season with 87 tackles, credits his Newberry coaches and his teammates for his success.

“They put me in position to make a lot of plays,” he said. “We have a really good defensive line, so they made a lot of plays too. Our front seven we have five of the seven going D-I, but together as a defense, it was a lot of work, but I was always put in the right position to make the right plays at the right times and that’s how you get all those tackles. You just do your role and play how you’re supposed to play and do what you’re supposed to do every play along with everybody else and you’ll make a lot of tackles.”

Newberry's Wyatt Hester (13) and Jonathan Powers (5) tallied 177 tackles for the Panthers in 2023.
Photo by C.J. Gish Newberry’s Wyatt Hester (13) and Jonathan Powers (5) tallied 177 tackles for the Panthers in 2023.

His most memorable game this year was against Williston, which scored in the final minute to stun the Panthers at home.

“There were a lot of people there, it was packed, a lot of energy,” said Powers, who had 14 tackles including eight solo tackles against the Red Devils’ wing-T offense. “It came down to the last seconds. Unfortunately, we didn’t pull off the win, but that game was amazing, and I had a really good game that game and it just stuck out to me because a lot of my friends from youth ball play on Williston, so it was like a clashing of best friends.”

One of the things that impressed Johnson the most about Powers was his leadership qualities.

“He’s just been a leader in our locker room for as long as I can remember,” Johnson said. “He’s a guy that has worked extremely hard for everything that he’s gotten, and I can’t wait to see him at the next level.”

Johnson described Powers as “instinctive.”

“He studies the game,” he said. “He’s had a really good linebacker coach the last two years in Coach (Reid) Fleming. He’s really helped develop those guys. He’s physical, he’s tough. He’s a really, really good tackler.”

Powers started out as a defensive tackle his freshman year, moved to defensive end his sophomore year, and the last two years he has played linebacker.

Hester got his start in the secondary.

“He was a little lighter when he came in,” Johnson said. “He had the height, but he was a little lighter and a good athlete, so he started out as a safety. He kind of grew into that body and we moved him down to outside linebacker and then he transitioned inside.”

As a senior, Hester led the team with 90 tackles, including 20 tackles for a loss.

“The kid loves contact,” Johnson said. “He’s fearless. That’s probably the biggest thing about him. He seeks it. He’s not afraid of anything. He’ll come downhill and try to put his helmet in there. He’s tough. He’ll make plays.”

Hester and Powers helped lead Newberry (9-3) to the second round of the Class 1R state playoffs this past season.

They ended up lining up next to each other in the middle of the defense and became a force for the Panthers at linebacker, combining for 177 tackles in 2024.

(From left) Jonathan Powers, Newberry football coach Ed Johnson and Wyatt Hester.
Photo by Mike Ridaught (From left) Jonathan Powers, Newberry football coach Ed Johnson and Wyatt Hester.

“They made a lot of tackles for us,” Johnson said. “That’s a big loss for us defensively that we’re going to have to replace, but the leadership is probably the biggest thing we’re going to have to replace. They’re really good kids and we are happy for them. It’s a good day to be a Panther.”

It seemed only natural the two would get a chance to grow the bond they started several years ago.

“He’s been my best friend since middle school and to be able to play football with him at the next level is awesome,” said Hester, who said the two have been best friends since seventh grade.

Powers was the “quarterback” of the Panthers’ defense and has been in that leadership role for a long time.

He feels like he can take that experience to the next level.

“In our scheme at Newberry he (Hester) was an outside linebacker because we play a 4-3, so I was middle and we had another outside,” Powers said. “At Mercer, it’s a 3-4 (defensive alignment) so there’s two inside and two outside. They mentioned moving me to the outside and him to the inside…as long as we get on the field and play ball that’s all that matters.”

He also knows the role could expand based on where he lines up for the orange and black.

“The outside linebacker, they have a little bit more work to do,” he said. “They’re a little more versatile. They have to cover out in space, they have to cover slot receivers, they have to rush the passer…especially at Mercer. That’s what their outside linebackers do they pash rush and drop in coverage, so an outside linebacker is a little more versatile and you’re doing a little more than the inside linebacker, but the inside linebacker is a very important piece of the defense and holds it all together.”

Both have excelled in the classroom too.

Powers, who will major in business management and minor in psychology, has a 3.54 grade point average and a weighted GPA of 4.16.

Hester, who is also going to school to pursue a business degree, carries a 3.72 GPA (4.32 weighted).

Now they’ll be roommates and ready to hold each other accountable as they head north for the next four years.

“It’s been a good ride here,” Hester said. “It’s my hometown. I was born and raised here so it’s always been special to me. Just being able to play in front of this crowd has been awesome.”

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