High expectations for sophomore Powell

Florida's Ronald Powell is taking on more of a leadership role.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, August 15, 2011 at 5:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 15, 2011 at 5:07 p.m.

It was a simple gesture in practice. But it told Florida coaches all they needed to know about how much Ronald Powell has matured from his freshman to sophomore season.

Florida coach Will Muschamp was trying to explain a punt drill to freshman Hunter Joyer. Powell then stepped in to help his coach.

"Ronald walked over and said 'Coach, I got it,' " Muschamp said. "He gets it now. He understands that process. He wants to help guys now."

After an up-and-down first season at Florida, Powell is hoping to unleash the talent that made him Rivals.com's top prospect in the Class 2010. In the process, Powell also is making an effort to reach out to his teammates.

"I was the type of guy who stayed to myself," Powell said. "If a guy didn't want to talk to me, I wouldn't talk to him."

Powell said he felt it was important to come out of his shell as a sophomore.

"I've got to step up now and be a leader," Powell said. "Still be me, be friendly, (find out) how your day is going, and really get to know guys and get to know what they go through."

The transformation was noticeable during Florida media day. Wearing a bright red Angels cap, Powell joked with his teammates. He called senior defensive lineman Jaye Howard his "idol," then referenced 300-pound defensive lineman Omar Hunter's love handles.

"We're all boys," Powell said. "It's kind of helping us, like we get together and we pick on each other and we have fun. It's only bringing us closer."

On the field, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Powell was listed first on the depth chart this spring in Florida's hybrid "Buck" position. In some downs at the Buck, Powell will line up at outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. In others, Powell will line up at defensive end in a 4-3.

"I really believe this is a position I can play here, and if I'm fortunate enough to play on the next level, I can play there, too," Powell said. "It gives me a lot of freedom to disguise, but I've still have a job description and I've still got to make sure I get it done."

Muschamp envisions the buck as an athletic pass rusher similar to NFL talents Jason Taylor, Matt Roth and Sergio Kindle.

"Ronald has done a nice job," Muschamp said. "He's a power rusher. He's a very physical young man. He's a tough player, he's a tough young man. He's a guy who has progressed well in what we are doing. He practices hard. He practices with toughness. And he plays the game the way it should be played."

There were high expectations for Powell when he signed out of Rancho Verde High in Moreno Valley, Calif. But being 3,000 miles from home resulted in some growing pains. Powell and teammate Dominique Easley skipped a practice last year because they felt they were being mistreated by upperclassmen on the team.

"For me, I handled it the way I needed to handle it," Powell said. "Everybody is going to have to their own opinion."

On the field, Powell admitted he had trouble adapting to the speed of college football.

"I never stopped working," Powell said. "Coming in as a freshman the game is so fast, really you're just trying to get the play down. You are just trying to understand the play."

Powell still earned freshman All-SEC honors in his first college season. In 13 games, including one start against Appalachian State, Powell finished with 25 tackles and one sack. On special teams, Powell delivered a key block that helped spring teammate Andre Debose's 99-yard kickoff return for a TD against South Carolina.

Powell said he didn't feel burdened by the weight of high expectations that came with his top overall 2010 ranking.

"I was definitely ready of the expectations because anybody's expectations they have for me, mine is 10-times higher than their's," Powell said.

Powell returned to his native California for a week during the offseason. He spent the rest of the time in Gainesville, studying film.

"I'm definitely learning more about the game defensive-wise and why are we doing the things that we're doing, instead of just learning plays," Powell said.

Physically, Powell said he feels stronger than last season. New Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn is teaching Powell to use his hands more, in an effort to shed more blocks. The ability to work in space at outside linebacker should give Powell a chance to display his speed and strength. But he's not guaranteeing a certain number of sacks.

"Getting to the quarterback, it's something we're going to have to do all together," Powell said. "It's going to take all of us."

Muschamp has been pleased with Powell's humility and approach to football.

"We've created an interesting phenomenon with this recruiting business and these stars and all of the expectations," Muschamp said. "Some guys handle it better than others. Ronald is very bright, very intelligent. He's a guy that football is very important to him.

"Transitioning from high school to college is hard especially on the line of scrimmage. The game is a lot faster, it's a lot bigger, it's a lot more complex. So I think it's a great learning experience and I love what he has told me as far as his learning experience and what he went through."

Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or brockwk@gvillesun.com. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com

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