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When Ronald Powell signed with Florida as the nation's top high school prospect in the class of 2010, he never thought he would ever be the forgotten man on the Gators' defense.
And yet, with Coach Will Muschamp's "man down, man up" philosophy on injuries, it was Powell's torn ACL in the 2012 spring game that forced the team to move on. As Powell was rehabbing before last season's opener, he re-tore the ligament and all hope of playing in the 2012 season vanished.
Now, after outstanding freshman seasons by budding stars Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr., Powell returns to a defense that figures to have one of the top front lines in the nation in 2013. His climb back to the top has been slow but steady, depressing but rewarding, all at the same time.
Powell said learning to deal with his devastating situation with faith helped him grow and stay positive about life and reach a better mental standpoint than he ever was.
"I definitely believe everything happens for a reason, and if I didn't believe that I probably wouldn't be here right now," he said.
Powell relied a lot on teammates during the darkest days, saying their support helped him get through it.
"When you have guys around you being positive, it's kind of hard to be negative," he said. "You don't want to wake up every day with that negative vibe because you know you're going through something hard, as well as for the guys around you. Just because you're going through something hard doesn't mean you have to be different to them."
Two of those players that have been important to him in the past year are Bullard and Fowler Jr., whom he had high praise for.
"They're brothers to me," he said. "I believe they're better than me at their age, and I think they can do wonderful things because that is the caliber of players they are."
But as only sophomores, Bullard and Fowler Jr. will both have their time to shine. Powell has worked hard to get back to the field, earning praise from Muschamp, who has said Powell is one of the hardest workers he has ever met.
"That's just Coach Muschamp," Powell said with a smile. "I know how hard I worked to get back and all of the setbacks just motivated me to work harder."
Powell said that despite defensive line coach Brad Lawing coming over from South Carolina, he hopes he doesn't compare him to Jadeveon Clowney.
"I think coach thinks he is a great player, and I do too, but his motive is to make me as good as I can be," he said. "I believe I can be great."
Before his injury last spring, Powell certainly seemed to be on the verge of being great. He led the Gators with six sacks as a sophomore at the Buck linebacker position in 2011.
Now, Powell has grown not only as a player, but as a man. He has been forced to learn patience and persistence. The brightest spotlight is no longer on him, but he returns to a defensive line unit he believes can and will be the best in college football.
He said he has no fear about taking a blow to his knee as fall camp starts tomorrow. Instead, he said he can almost taste the field once again and hinted that a year of waiting should make the guys across from him more nervous.
"To be honest, I'm actually worried about how it's going to feel when I hit somebody."