Florida linebacker Ronald Powell walked off Sanders Football Practice Field for the final time as a player Monday, closing the book on his difficult but life-changing college career.
The California native arrived at UF in 2010 as the nation’s top overall high school prospect. Although he came in with high expectations as a freshman, Powell said he never let the hype get to his head.
“Coming out of high school being the No. 1 player in the country, I never asked for that,” he said. “I just listened to the good people around me. I kept my work ethic and God on my side, and I just took it step by step and I ended up in that place.
“I always attack myself every day, whatever the case is. I want to be better than myself every day. So that number really didn’t mean nothing to me.”
However, Powell still had his growing pains early on. He and fellow freshman Dominique Easley were rumored to be leaving the team during their first fall camp, and Powell felt he needed an attitude change going into his sophomore year.
After being selected to the SEC All-Freshman team, Powell’s 2011 season was the best of his career. He recorded six sacks and 32 tackles, including nine for a loss.
“Some of the things coming in that was on my mind of how I went about things is out the window,” Powell said. “Just being able to grow and learn how to handle different situations, and overall just becoming a man. I’ve had a lot of different life experiences here, and it made me grow into who I am today.”
He led the Gators in 2013 with four sacks and eight quarterback hurries and decided to leave early for the NFL in January.
UF coach Will Muschamp said Powell’s trials and tribulations have prepared him for the pros.
“There’s no question it’s going to help him moving forward,” Muschamp said. “A lot of people say, ‘Did you question him coming out?’ No, I didn’t. He had two ACL (tears). People don’t understand when you battle back through those situations and what he’s done and what’s accomplished.
“So he’s ready for the next level and to take the next step. He needs to be productive, and he will be.”
Powell ran the fourth-fastest 40-yard time (4.65) and eighth-highest vertical jump (35.5″) among linebackers before pulling his hamstring in the NFL combine last month. At Florida’s Pro Day he increased his number of 225-pound bench press reps from 21 to 25.
“I feel like I competed,” Powell said. “I feel like I gave all I can. I think I did well. Whenever I give my effort like that, I feel like I come out on the good side of things.
“Being able to do these position drills and being able to show that to all the scouts was big for me. I kind of wasn’t sure how that was going to come out with my hamstring (injury) being three weeks ago.”
Now Powell awaits May’s draft, where he’s projected to be a mid- to late-round pick. He’s been training back home in California the past few months and already misses Gainesville.
“It’s not an easy place to leave, and it’s definitely some place that’s in my heart,” Powell said. “I can’t tell you what I won’t miss about this place because I’m missing a whole lot things.”