GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ronald Powell had every reason to exit the Orange & Blue Game with all kinds of negative thoughts rumbling through his head.
A torn ACL will do that to a guy.
It didn’t, however, do it to Powell. Quite the opposite, actually.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Powell said during Thursday during Florida Media Day.
Obviously, some explanation is needed.
After starting 12 games and leading the Gators with six sacks last season, Powell was making the hybrid defensive end/linebacker “Buck” position his own when that progress was cruelly cut short after the junior from Moreno Valley, Calif., tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the spring game.
Yet since that calamity, the coaches in the football offices and weight room have done nothing but praise Powell’s approach during the rehab process. He’s turned what can often be a long and dark time into one of anticipation and possibilities.
“I’ve had a positive attitude since Day 1,” said Powell, who stayed in Gainesville throughout the summer working on his comeback. “It’s been all straight forward. Move on. Time to go. Let’s work toward getting better and focus on the things I can control.”
Along the way, Powell not only loved the way his knee responded to surgery, but also how his new-found attitude rubbed off in every other aspect of his life.
“This injury has given me something better than football -- a mindset,” he said. “I can actually take that to my family. I can sit my [children] down one day and say, ‘Hey, maybe when you’re going through hard times, this is when you have to push through. It’s only going to make you stronger.’ I didn’t have that before. Now, I do.”
Muschamp and the Gators can’t wait to see how the new-attitude, new-knee Powell translates to the field. Unfortunately, they’ll have to. Powell won’t be cleared for practice anytime soon, but Muschamp is on record saying he expects Powell to play this season.
Since spring practice ended in April, the hottest topic surrounding the Gators is who the starting quarterback will be in the season opener Sept. 1 against Bowling Green.
Nothing has changed. Sophomores Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett enter fall came battling for the job.
“We’ll know when the time is right,’’ Muschamp said Thursday.
Driskel has a good idea of what will determine the outcome.
“It’s all in the preparation,’’ Driskel said. “You are always going to have to be a leader. That’s what Coach is looking for. That’s what he said the whole time. He is going to look for the guy who is going to produce. If you don’t produce you won’t play.”
PASSING ON PREDICTIONS
It’s been a couple weeks since senior tailback Mike Gillislee, who will enter preseason atop the depth chart, boldly predicated at Southeastern Conference Media Days that he was shooting for 1,500 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns this season.
Note: Last year, Gillislee rushed for 328 yards and two touchdowns.
But UF’s offensive coaches are high on Gillislee, who’s averaged 6.3 yards per carry for his career, and believe he can be the catalyst of a power running game they hope becomes the calling card of the offense; and one that takes some pressure off the young quarterbacks.
Muschamp was asked Thursday if Gillislee could be a 1,000-yard back. The coach wasn’t biting. If anything, he may have chosen his words wisely enough to remind Gillislee of the sky-high bar he set for himself.
“As far as predictions and all,” Muschamp said, “I’ve told our players we are not making any predictions -- and neither am I.”
START ME UP
The Gators will start fall camp on Friday at UF’s lacrosse facility. The team used Don Dizney Stadium to open camp in Muschamp’s first season a year ago.
The first practice in Friday will be broken up in two sessions: one for the veterans (early session) and an evening session for the younger players.
“For teaching purposes, I think it's really good to get the kids out there and have them have an opportunity to be able to get turns and reps in the drills,’’ Muschamp said. “We can slow it down a little bit at night for the younger guys especially; slow the teaching progression down for them a little bit which I think is really beneficial for them in the learning process.”
The Gators will open practice to fans on Aug. 18 at The Swamp. The practice is scheduled from 9 to 11 a.m. and precedes Verizon Fan Day at the O’Dome, which is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. … Muschamp said freshman TE Colin Thompson (foot) will be slowed early in practice and that senior DT Nick Alajajian won’t be at full speed at the start of camp due to a back injury. He added that WR Stephen Alli (stress fracture) and freshman DB Marcus Maye (meniscus) are expected to be cleared by the middle of camp. Finally, Muschamp said redshirt junior CB Jeremy Brown (wrist surgery) is expected to return to the field in September … Tennessee State announced Thursday that former Gators TE A.C. Leonard is joining the program. Leonard left UF last month and will be eligible to play right away at Tennessee State.