Torn ACL strengthens Powell

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After it was all over -- two-plus hours of stretching, position drills, 11-on-11s, the sun, the sweat, the fans -- and everyone in a helmet and pads started to file off of Florida Field on Saturday, it was Ronald Powell's turn.

The Florida junior who tore his ACL during the spring game stepped onto the field and went to work with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. They worked on his hands, his feet, his eyes -- sharpening and refining his technique -- all with the intention to help Powell return to the field ahead of schedule.

"He's been doing that every day," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said of Powell's work with Quinn. "Every day he gets some extra football work in along with the workouts he is doing there in the weight room and the rehab he is doing for his knee. Every day. He does work every day."

Powell is driven like never before. Naturally, the goal is to play this season. But a bigger goal is to make his torn ACL into the turning point of his life. Someday, Powell says, he'll look back on it and say, "That injury made me who I am today."

"Why not?" he muses. "Why wouldn't this be the best thing that ever happened to me?"

Waiting to work out last probably feels a bit foreign to Powell. He came to UF in 2010 with a lot of firsts next to his name as the consensus top prospect in high school football. He had four ones on his resume -- No. 1 at his position, No. 1 in the state of California, No. 1 in the West region, No. 1 in America.

But that tremendous promise didn't immediately translate onto the field in Powell's first two seasons. There were one-on-one meetings about his on-field production and talk of entitlement issues off it.

Powell doesn't dispute that. He says he used to run away from problems or people he didn't get along with. But now he claims that torn ACL has changed him to the core. Now, he says, he faces everything head-on.

On April 7, that fateful day of Florida's spring game, Powell was expecting to cap what had been a breakthrough month of spring practices. He had emerged as an impact player, a versatile pass-rusher and a leader.

Then he fell awkwardly on his left leg in a sideline pileup, and his emergence came to a sudden halt. A little more than two weeks later, on April 23, Powell had surgery to repair a torn ACL and faced a prognosis of 4-6 months before he could return.

Somewhere in those two weeks, Powell's mindset took a turn for the positive.

"I've never been through it, never had a surgery," he said. "I just came in and I was positive. I stayed with an open mind. I never was down.

"When I got out of surgery I went right to the stadium. I wanted to be with my team. I wanted to be around them. They said, 'Go home and lay down,' and I'm crutchin' around, chillin' with the team, and I think that's really what helped me, because I didn't want to stay in bed. I didn't want to lay down. I wanted to see how it felt to move on it. I wanted to see how it felt to put it on the ground. I've never been scared of it.

Ronald Powell's work ethic has been off the charts. The guy has not taken a break all summer. He's been in the training room. He's done everything that's been asked.

-- Florida coach Will Muschamp

"Even at this day and time, I'm not scared to cut on it. If they say cut, I'm gonna cut. It's when they say go, I'm gonna go."

As Powell has approached the four-month mark, there is an increasing astonishment at his progress and his attitude.

"Ronald Powell's work ethic has been off the charts," Muschamp said on Saturday. "The guy has not taken a break all summer. He's been in the training room. He's done everything that's been asked. Some people do heal quicker than others.

"Mike Moser, our orthopedic [surgeon] -- what a phenomenal job. All the things we've said, we're to a tee, and his time is ahead. Ronald is walking in the training room, 'Can I do this? Can I do this now?' No, you can't do that yet. We can't do this yet.

"I've said it all summer, the guy's attitude and his approach to a tough deal has been amazing. He's been a lot more mature than the rest of us about handling it and where he is with it and what he needs to do to improve himself. So yeah, it's amazing to hear how quickly those things can be healed now."

Fellow junior defensive lineman Dominique Easley has seen the profound change in his close friend. Powell and Easley share the same injury, with Easley having suffered his in Florida's final regular season game in 2011. Easley is on track to return to action almost nine months after his surgery. His recovery hasn't drawn nearly the same attention as Powell's, a fact that resulted in a big belly laugh when Easley was asked if Powell stole his thunder.

"No, I wouldn't wish that on nobody," Easley said in early August, "but he's a different breed, so he's going to get through it better than me."

Still, Powell has the benefit of Easley who has helped him deal with the injury.

"I was going through it with no guidance," Easley said. "I didn't have anybody to tell me what was going to happen. I'm trying to help him every possible way."

Among Easley's guiding words, the keys were patience and trust. Easley led and Powell followed. Powell says he never once felt depressed or angry.

"Nah, not at all. It's been straightforward to me," he said. "When it's something that I have to go through, there's no reason to be mad about it or look back on it or wish this should have happened or that should have happened. It's my job to take it head-on.

"For me, everything was positive. I'm in such a positive state of mind right now. I've shocked myself. And that's what this injury has done for me. It's actually given me something else that I can take through life. When one door shuts, it's time to open the next door, and I didn't have that before.

"I'm better because of it. I'm a better man because of it, and I think I'm going to be a better player because of it."