GAINESVILLE -- A torn ACL in the spring has spurred Gators linebacker Ronald Powell to work harder to be a better player.
In one of his weakest moments, Ronald Powell became a man.
Entering his third year in Gainesville, Powell was reportedly finally living up to the hype. The nation’s top recruit and a significant part of Florida’s second-ranked recruiting class in 2010, Powell largely had underachieved in his first two seasons as a Gator. That changed this spring, when coaches and teammates couldn’t stop talking about the jump the junior Buck linebacker had made.
“He’s probably had the best offseason I’ve seen from anyone since I’ve been here,” fifth-year senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said in March. “He’s worked so hard this offseason, and it’s really paying off right now.”
But an innocuous push from a teammate during the spring game brought all the positive momentum to a screeching halt. Powell fell awkwardly on his left knee, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament and delaying any chance to prove his critics wrong. But UF coach Will Muschamp has said he expects Powell to play this season, and a large reason why is the approach Powell has taken following the injury.
Instead of sulking, Powell used the setback as a watershed event. Asked at Florida’s media day last week if he would look back on the injury positively later in life, Powell said: “No, no, no. Right now, at this day and time, I already look back and say this is the best thing to ever happen to me.”
“At first, I didn’t know how to take it. … That’s human nature. I didn’t know how to take it. But before I went into the MRI, I came to a conclusion myself that whatever the situation may be, if it’s a sprained knee down to my whole knee [being] blown out, it’s there. You know what I mean? I have to take it on. That’s my priority. It’s time for me to take this on and basically handle it as a man.”
Powell has had help from fellow defensive lineman and heralded recruit Dominique Easley, who missed all of the spring after recovering from the same injury. Easley tore the ligament in his left knee on Nov. 26 against Florida State and told Powell to be patient and concentrate on his recovery.
Powell, who plays both defensive end and outside linebacker for UF, led the team in sacks a season ago. In his absence, redshirt senior Lerentee McCray and freshman Dante Fowler Jr. have been working at the position.
Muschamp initially estimated Powell would be out four to six months. Tuesday was the four-month mark. Powell has been practicing on the side, doing some straight-ahead running with a bit of change of direction as Florida goes through its first week of fall camp.
All ACL injuries are different. Some require years before the knee is 100 percent, others six months to a year. But one thing is certain: The Gators will be getting a different player, and likely a better player, when Powell does return.
“[The injury has] given me something else bigger than football,” Powell said. “It’s given me something I can take to my kids. When one door closes, it’s time to move on to the next one. I never had that, ‘The situation is here, time to take it on,’ type of attitude, and that’s what this has given me.”