GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Everything was coming together for Ronald Powell.
Once the most decorated high school football player in the nation, Powell had piled on a nice finish to his 2011 sophomore season with an out-of-this-world spring in 2012. Gators coach Will Muschamp and his staff gushed about the progress Powell had made playing the crucial “Buck” position, a defensive end and linebacker hybrid with a premium on rushing the quarterback. Muschamp also praised Powell’s development as a teammate.
“We’re just overall pleased with everything he’s trying to do,” Muschamp said.
Then came the Orange & Blue Game.
Powell, chasing a ballcarrier to the sideline, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the second quarter of UF’s glorified scrimmage. After surgery, UF’s medical staff projected Powell would return in midseason, but a rehab setback in October necessitated a second surgery and started his recovery clock all over again.
So while a potentially monster group of defensive linemen -- led by senior Dominique Easley and sophomores Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard -- butted heads during spring workouts last month, Powell remained something of a forgotten Gator, quietly and anonymously going about his rehab and training.
All with an eye toward the fall.
His goal -- still an ambitious one -- is to be on the field when UF opens fall practice in August.
Powell, now a beefed up and beastly looking 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, sat down Tuesday and spoke about his year that wasn’t and the one he hopes will be.
GZ: After so much adversity, where is your head these days?
RP: “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.”
GZ: What has the medical staff basically told you about your timetable? Or even your expectations?
RP: “Well, at first, it was going to be the LSU game [last October], but I had a setback. Now, it’s just getting ready for camp, full fledged. That’s the goal. To get off the bus [at the first practice] and be ready for the season.”
GZ: You led the team in sacks and finished fourth in tackles for loss in 2011. The last two games of that year, against Florida State and Ohio State in the Gator Bowl, you had two of the best games of your career and made some of your splashiest plays, with sacks and forced fumbles. Was that the best football you had played since you got to Gainesville?
RP: “No, I don’t think so. The best football I’ve played since I’ve been here was that [following] spring. My last one. When I got hurt. [Former defensive coordinator] Dan Quinn and Coach ‘Champ really developed me as a player; brought out my personality as a player. Along with that, I developed in ways personally. I learned what it really meant to work hard, what it meant to strive and grind. That was when I became the player I want to be.”
GZ: When Coach Quinn left to become defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, did he tell you anything before going out the door?
RP: “He told me he looked at me like a man on a mission -- and that’s me right now. That’s what I am. ‘No’ was never an answer. ‘I can’t’ was never an answer. My response to everything has been, ‘All right, what’s next?’ Even when they called me about my setback, I was like, ‘OK, what do we do now?’ ... Yes, you have some days when you’re down, but those days for me have been minimal. I’m staying positive and thinking, ‘I’m going to make it.’ I know where this is going to end up.”
GZ: What have you seen from the young guys like Fowler and Bullard?
RP: “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. 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.”
GZ: Speaking of looking back, you were billed as the No. 1 prospect in the nation when you arrived, but right now no one is talking about Ronald Powell. Is flying under the radar a good thing for you personally? Does it fuel you in any way?
RP: “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’m a dude that likes to go after those who said, ‘he couldn’t’ or “he wasn’t’ or ‘he’s not going to make it.’ 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. I’m more interested in going out and playing ball and hearing what people have to say about what I’m doing in ‘The Swamp.’ Whether that’s the first game against Toledo or the second game down in Miami, I don’t care. The past doesn’t matter. I’m thinking about today, tomorrow and what’s ahead of me.”
GZ: You sound like you’re at the point where you just want the green light to get on the field.
RP: “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. 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.”