Powell aims high for UF
Published: Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 6:38 p.m.
No matter how much you power the Ronald Powell hype machine, you'll never exceed the expectations the Florida true freshman defensive end has created for himself.
The former No. 1 recruit in the nation has heard how great he is and will be since he was a junior at Moreno Valley, Calif., Rancho Verde High. He tested extremely well at summer camps and loaded up on verbal offers from the best football schools in the country by Sept. 1 of his junior year.
After a senior season loaded with praise and publicity ended with a tremendous showing at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and a commitment to Florida, Powell piled on more pressure by challenging himself to become the best collegiate defensive end in America.
"My expectations on myself are higher than anyone in this world can imagine because it's a fight against myself rather than whatever people are thinking," Powell said. "You can only be as (great) as yourself."
The way Powell is surrounded for interviews doesn't faze him. Being projected as a freshman starter doesn't inflate his personality. And being cast as the "Tim Tebow" of this recruiting class doesn't scare him.
From the recognition he got from head coach Urban Meyer on National Signing Day in February to the way recruiting analysts drooled over his game film, Powell won't ever escape the pressure of succeeding at Florida.
But lofty expectations and that enormous hype won't get players anywhere on the practice field, especially freshmen. Veterans and coaches don't have time for egos, and it can get easy for young prima donnas to get lost early.
That is not Powell's persona at camp.
He admits schools backed off of him his senior year because of an attitude people judged as arrogant, but his new teammates and coaches won't find that in Gainesville. Not now.
Powell's approach has been like any other freshman and his first few weeks competing haven't been easy now that he's not the biggest, fastest and most athletic guy around.
"He had his first inside drill in the SEC the other day. It wasn't a lot of fun," defensive line coach Dan McCarney said of Powell. "(Veterans) wait sometimes for guys who have those 15 stars behind their names to come here and see if they can humble them a little bit."
Added Powell: "It's definitely been a wake-up call for me to get better," he said. "Everybody's trying to eat just like you are. They're not going to let you take it off their plate."
Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Omar Hunter immediately got the Tebow treatment from Meyer and the media as a frosh and was almost branded as a bust after a back injury and weight issues kept him out most of his first season.
Hunter blocked out the pressure in 2009 on his way to accumulating 17 tackles in 14 games. Now he's guiding Powell and has been pleased by his reception.
"I told Powell to come in, work hard and gain respect that way," Hunter said. "Don't come in talking a lot and get people upset with you.
"He's doing a good job handling things coming into camp."
No matter what the advice, Powell will be illuminated by the spotlight, and while Meyer won't hide his feelings about Powell's ability, he wants to hide him as much as possible.
"Ronald Powell is one of the best high school football players I've ever seen," Meyer said. "He's even a better guy.
"That's one of the reasons we're trying this restrictions (at practice) stuff.
"How do you restrict an 18-year-old from being told by a thousand people 'you're the greatest thing since sliced bread?' You gotta go coach him. Good thing he's a high-character guy like Tim. It's not a big problem, were just watching it this year more than ever."
Powell said he's been humbled by his arrival in Gainesville. There's no special treatment and he's not putting himself above anyone.
But there is that confident itch.
Powell momentarily erases his humility when talking about his first goal of the year — playing in the season opener.
"Yeah, I expect to play," he said. "I definitely expect to play."