UF's Powell a changed man
Published: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 12:24 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 6, 2011 at 12:24 p.m.
Ronald Powell is starting over. New coaches, new attitude, new position.
The nation's No. 1 recruit in 2010 is out to prove that his less-than-stellar freshman year will be a minor bump in his Florida career.
A much ballyhooed recruit, Powell was projected to be an immediate star for the Gators, and the hype he carried was nothing short of enormous.
Bringing in a 6-foot-4, 230-pound chiseled frame and near wide receiver speed, there was never a question Powell would become Florida's most dominant pass rushing defensive end in 2010 — it was merely a question of when.
"Ron Powell is one of the best high school players I've ever seen," former Florida coach Urban Meyer said during last year's fall camp. "When he came to campus, he stole our heart about being a worker, loving the game of football and wanting to be a Gator. That's a special player."
Powell, however, struggled in early practices and the size, speed and athleticism that helped him overpower high school counterparts, didn't set him apart from his college teammates.
Soon, rumors of Powell having discipline problems spread and just before Florida's season opener, Powell and fellow freshman All-American defensive lineman Dominique Easley missed part of a practice for unknown reasons. Internet message board rumors started with the two skipping practice to both cleaning out their lockers, threatening to transfer. Rumors then swirled that Powell and center Mike Pouncey got into an altercation.
Meyer later denied Powell and Easley skipped practice or attempted to transfer.
Only players and coaches know what happened, but during the early part of the season, it became obvious Powell's lack of playing time was a reflection of poor practice habits. Powell admits to not acclimating to "big-time D-1 ball" fast enough.
"It was a rough start," Powell said. "Coming in with a lot of expectations. It was rough for me and then I got settled in and started buying into the program and became the player that I was."
Midway through the season, Powell moved from defensive end to outside linebacker, where he saw his playing time substantially increase. Powell said playing more helped him buy into Florida's program, and when he struggled mentally, he started meeting with former defensive graduate assistant Anthony Weaver, who helped him cope with his issues.
Powell finished 2010 with 25 tackles, including a sack and two pass breakups.
Now, Powell assures his poor attitude has been replaced by the desire to help his team. And he'll be doing that at a new position that should help him better utilize all those tools that made him a high school phenom.
New coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn have made Powell the Gators' new do-everything "Buck" on defense. Like Jason Taylor did at Miami, while Muschamp and Quinn were on staff, and Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle did under Muschamp at Texas, Powell will be a roaming, hybrid defensive end/linebacker.
"That position is a really unique guy," Quinn said. "It's a fun position to play. You're kind of a hybrid defensive end where you can rush and also you're dropping the zone play on receivers. It's really unique. You're looking for a guy who has got speed and length and has the ability to play into place with receivers, as well."
The added field freedom has Powell "loving" a position he considers a "great fit" for him. To prepare, he's watched film of Taylor and Kindle, but isn't looking to imitate, just take notes.
"I don't know what they have, I just know what I got," Powell said. "I can come off the edge and play. ... I can pass rush. I can go into coverage.
"It's the best position for me. If I could have picked any position, it would have been a Buck position."
According to teammates, Powell is a different person and player. His new position has transformed him into an aggressive player on the field, and his improved attitude is helping to develop better chemistry.
"I'm not going to go all into what he was really like (last fall), but he was a young guy," senior defensive end William Green said. "He's gotten a lot better as a player and matured."
Right guard Jon Halapio agrees.
"(Last fall) you could tell he was trying to be somewhere where he's supposed to be," Halapio said. "Now, he's just running through people."
And that's what everyone is expecting Powell to do this time around, resurrecting those lofty expectations.
"Ronald is an explosive, strong, tough, hard-nosed football player," Muschamp said. "He's a guy that we feel like we can create some one-on-ones and some mismatches for an offense. He's a guy you're going to need to account for."
But those expectations don't bother Powell. His head is clearer, and he said his trust in Florida's new staff will guide him through the hype building for his sophomore season.
"I'm going to lean on my coaches," he said. "Dan Quinn is a great coach and he's going to do whatever it takes to get me to be the player that he wants me to be."