A laid-back guy of few words, when Bilal Powell was chosen by the Jets in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Louisville, it would have been safe to say his first thought wasn't to order some namesake bling.
"I had a very small gathering in my apartment, and my wife missed it. She was actually in the rest room," Powell laughed. "My friend, when he heard my name, he started screaming her name and everybody else was going crazy. I just sat in silence because you dream about that moment. And when that moment finally comes, it just doesn't seem real."
Powell knew for certain it was real when he, the only running back New York drafted and the only rookie running back to make the team, reported to the Jets and met one of his new teammates – three-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
"Talk about a Hall of Famer. One of the things that I did early on in my career was just become a sponge," Powell said. "I gained as much knowledge as I could from a guy like that. I grew up watching him, and to have an opportunity to pretty much play behind him and watch how he moves, especially to watch how he prepares on and off the field, it was pretty much a blessing for me as a young guy coming in."
Playing in only two games and rushing for 21 yards during his first season, Powell was certainly discouraged, but also found it to be a beneficial learning experience.
"LaDainian Tomlinson was encouraging me every day, telling me to stay the course," Powell said. "He always talked about preparation, and how I needed to always be prepared because the last thing that I wanted was to lose an opportunity because I wasn't prepared. I always took that at heart."
In 2017, Powell's seventh season, which is more than double the average length of an NFL career, he led the Jets with a career-high 772 rushing yards and five touchdowns. What does he accredit that to?
"I think it was the guys I had around me talking about schemes that pretty much fit my attributes. And the guys up front," Powell said. "It's hard to take all the credit for having a successful year. You always look at the game plan and the coaches putting players in the best position that fits them and suits them."
Seven games into the 2018 season, Powell had 343 rushing yards, 110 receiving yards and a touchdown, before hurting his neck and going on Injured Reserve. Returning the following year, his teammates voted for him to receive the Ed Block Courage Award, which recognizes a player as a role model for inspiration, sportsmanship, and courage.
"I'm a guy that really doesn't talk a lot, but it meant a lot to me because that just shows the respect that guys had for me around the locker room," Powell said. "And I worked my tail off to get back. So to be voted by guys that you go to work with every day, and go to war with every day, it meant a lot to me."
With New York for nine seasons, 2011-19, Powell is eighth amongst the Jets' all-time leading rushers with 3,675 yards. Seventy-five of those came on a touchdown run against Jacksonville on October 1, 2017.
Midway through the first quarter at MetLife Stadium, Josh McCown pitched the ball to Powell, who ran 7 yards and fell to the turf. He then got up just as quickly as he went down, and sprinted another 68 yards to the end zone.
That play, which helped the Jets win, 23-20 in OT, is one of Powell's fondest memories with the Green & White.
"I saw practice mentality come to light because (running back) Coach Anthony Lynn, who coached me for about four years, I remember him always saying, 'Hey, don't stop until the whistle blows,'" Powell said. "Sometimes as a player, things get repetitive and sometimes you overlook certain things, the little things that make a difference. And so that run, understanding I wasn't touched, and just get up and run, I think pretty much sums up my career."
Powell's career with the Jets officially came to a close on April 26, 2022 when he signed a one-day contract with the team and retired.
"It meant a lot to me because I always wanted to be a Jet. When I came out of college, they showed the most interest in me," Powell said. "At the time, Rex Ryan was there as the head coach. You had Anthony Lynn. You had (general manager) Mike Tannenbaum. Those guys giving me the opportunity to live out my dreams, I always wanted to be a guy that wanted to be on one team throughout my career.
"So just to see that come full circle, to say. 'Hey, I came in this league as a Jet and I left this league as a Jet,' I don't think a lot of guys can say that."
Powell and his wife, Jessica, have three children: Amara, Nya, and Tavis; and make their home in Louisville, Kentucky.
"I'm doing custom home building, and my wife is working alongside with me as a realtor and home interior designer," Powell said. "And I'm working alongside Tom Waller Signature Homes. Tom Waller is the president of the Building Industry Association here in Louisville, and I'm looking to take his company over as he mentors me throughout this whole thing.
"I've always been interested in doing real estate and I wanted to actually start out with flipping homes. This opportunity came about when Bob Merritt, who is a dear friend of mine, and is very well known in the industry as a developer, as a real estate agent, and as a builder, told me, 'If you're looking to get into any kind of construction, I would suggest new home construction.'
"So I kind of dabbled around with the idea, and when I engaged in it, I actually started liking it. It was one of those things where my wife was interested in doing the same thing and we just became a partnership."
Very much hands-on, Powell is the general contractor on each project, and builds homes for clients and on spec. He currently has three homes in the works, having recently sold one and looking to list another one.
"That's the difference in the business I was in before where you pay for production, and now you pay for completion," Powell laughed. "It's a little different."
What does he enjoy most about what he's doing?
"Just to see everything that we put on paper come to life and every stage that comes with the process," Powell said. "You start out with the floor planning. You start out with the permit. Just the whole entire thing, it's step-by-step, A to Z.
"I really, really enjoy doing it. And I think the best builders, it's not about them as the builder, but having the subcontractors that are working. I think that's what separates certain builders from other builders, their subs."
The Powells are also building a second business.
"My wife and I are in the early stage of creating a wine. The name is 29th and 9th," Powell said, "29th, which is my number, and 9th was inspired by being in New York for nine years, and New York being a big part of our lives. It is New Jersey, New York inspired with the colors, in the name, in the design."