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The New and Improved Ronald Powell

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By BJ Bennett
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When Florida takes the field against Toldeo at the end of August, Ronald Powell will do so with a new-found energy and feel.

Ronald Powell’s upside has long been established, potential measured in traits like height and weight, strength and speed. The California-native finished his high school career ranked as the top player in the country by both ESPN and and a consensus can’t miss five-star prospect. At a lean 6’4” with the quickness of some defensive backs and a certain tenacity off the line of scrimmage, Powell fit the prototype of the quintessential edge rusher.

“Tall, yet lean, and muscular athlete with very little body fat. He is the guy that should walk off the bus first,” wrote Barry Evans of Rivals in the summer of 2009. “Should end up one of the premier pass-rushing defensive ends in a couple years. He has all the physical tools to play this game for a long time.”

Powell settled on the University of Florida, serving as the key cog in a heralded haul ranked by many as the number one recruiting class in the nation. Fundamentally raw though athletically refined, Powell’s physical tools were quite obvious. Some pegged him as Florida’s most highly-touted football signee ever. Powell was stepping into a defensive rotation that led in the SEC in sacks in 2009 and was following in the footsteps of the likes of all-conference standouts Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap.  

The hype for a first-year player coming completely cross-country was overwhelming. So, too, were the expectations. Year one for Powell was a transition of sorts, with the game’s top defensive end prospect adjusting to strongside linebacker. Powell played in all 13 games, made one start where he led the team in tackles against Appalachian State, and played prominently on special teams. He earned Freshman All-SEC honors for his efforts.

Powell proved to be more at home as a sophomore, settling in at BUCK linebacker under first-year head football coach and former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. A hybrid role built for pressuring the passer, Brian Orakpo thrived at that position while working under Muschamp as a Longhorn. Powell led the Gators in sacks in 2011 and arguably played his best football down the stretch in games against the likes of nationally-ranked Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State and versus Ohio State that postseason.

That finish served as momentum into Powell’s first spring as an upperclassmen. Just as the turn downhill approached, that movement suddenly stopped with an unfortunate step in the wrong direction. In front of a half-filled stadium at Florida’s annual Orange and Blue team scrimmage, Powell tore the ACL in his left knee. Surgery and the rehabilitation that followed forced the budding star to miss all of 2012 due to injury. Powell’s run at a banner season came to a staggering halt.   

For a player in Powell’s high-profile position, being away from the football field brought many challenges. Though charged with the daunting task of recovery, pressure from his high school days remained unrelenting.

“To be honest, I never asked to be the No. 1 player. It just happened. It was something I had to live with, deal with. Reality. But I have my own expectations and determinations. I have my own stuff inside of me that makes me go, makes me strive. I know what I can do and believe in what I can do. So I guess you can say that stuff matters, but I’m not interested in anyone talking about me being No. 1 anything,” Powell told Chris Harry of, Florida’s official athletics website, back in the spring. “The past doesn’t matter. I’m thinking about today, tomorrow and what’s ahead of me.”

Looking forward, Powell will be the x-factor among a collection of pass rushers as talented as any in college football. He is one of four players who entered college with five-star billing who will attack the edge or line up in the trenches for the Gators this season. New York-native Dominique Easley signed with Powell in Florida’s famed 2010 recruiting class and is getting All-American attention this summer. A dynamic tackle, Easley has totaled 16 tackles for loss the past two years.

Powell will work alongside underclassmen Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler, serving as a mentor for praised defensive end prospects who paid their dues as freshmen. Fowler, also a BUCK linebacker, started one game his first year and earned Freshman All-American recognition. More of a true defensive end, Bullard was named Freshman All-SEC in his debut. Much like Powell saw marked improvement in his second season, Bullard and Fowler are hoping to follow in the footsteps of their five-star predecessor.

For the two sophomores, Powell sees promise and production. For himself, he sees an opportunity.

“Oh man, I can think back when I was that age. I wasn’t where they are. I could have been — woulda, coulda, shoulda — but to see those guys actually come in and take coaching and develop as players and people and men…I mean, Fowler is like a little brother to me,” Powell acknowledged. “It’s good to see a dude who can take coaching and will ask advice. And it’s good to be able to help and be there for a dude. I did not have a guy like that. Looking back, I could have used that.”

While his Florida career has not exactly gone as planned to date, Powell has learned from the adversity thrown his way. He has prepared tirelessly for the upcoming season and has the scars to prove it. More importantly, he has the perspective. 

“I can say I’ve matured a lot. I’ve grown as a person and as a man. It’s been difficult, but I’ve always had faith that I would make it out. I had to attack it. I felt it was my duty not to be down and not to give people anything that would make them say, ‘Oh, he’s who’s going through some stuff.’ I wasn’t looking for pity at all and I wasn’t asking anyone for anything. It was something that happened, that I had to deal. Something to overcome,” Powell explained.

Powell has not played in a real football game in a very long time. The last time he took the field in a contest that counted was the last loss for Ohio State, now coached by the man who recruited him to Gainesville, Urban Meyer. Despite the time off, the NFL is very aware of Powell’s progression. His name is still on boards for this upcoming draft and, should he play out his full eligibility, on those for the year after that. Continued development on the field will only help that cause. For the first time since early spring of 2012, it’s full speed ahead.

““I’m literally burning inside to play again. I think about it all the time. It’s a different feeling than before. I appreciate it so much more than I did before. I thought I appreciated it, but now it’s two or three times more,” Powell admitted. “I never thought football — this team — would be taken from me. I never thought I’d be in this situation. It’s just life, you know? Now, I can’t wait until I have that part of my life back.”   

When Florida takes the field against Toldeo at the end of August, Powell will do so with a new-found energy and feel. Now healthy, all of the combine facts and figures will still be there. This time, however, his skill set is much more complex.

BJ Bennett – B.J. Bennett is’s founder and publisher. He is the co-host of “Three & Out” with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the “Southern Pigskin Radio Network”. Email: [email protected] / Twitter: @BJBennettSports

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