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Injuries behind him, Powell eager for Gators return

Florida linebacker Ronald Powell (7) hangs on to Furman wide receiver Tyler Maples during a 2011 game.

AP photo

Florida linebacker Ronald Powell (7) hangs on to Furman wide receiver Tyler Maples during a 2011 game.

GAINESVILLE — You might expect the excruciating pain Ronald Powell endured in sustaining and rehabbing from two major knee injuries would have devastated him the most.

But when the Florida redshirt junior walked into a team meeting after sustaining his second torn ACL within six months, he was hit with a tangible, stark reality: He would not play football for the foreseeable future.

The devastation rose to another level.

"That depth chart goes up, and your name is not on there," Powell said. "That was something that I had to really realize. I appreciate when my name is up there."

His name will be there today when the No. 10 Gators open the season against Toledo. It will mark the first time since Jan. 2, 2012, that Powell has run onto the field in a Gators uniform to play a game.

And believe this: He's not taking it for granted.

"I only can expect the great feeling of running back out in the Swamp because I haven't done it in so long," said Powell, whose last home game was Nov. 26, 2011. "I'm just expecting the anxiousness to set in place. It's close. It's here. It's like my dream is about to come true again; to run out there again.

"So I'm … excited and ready for what God's got in store for me."

Powell, from Moreno Valley, Calif., was the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation when he signed in 2010. He appeared in every game (one start) in 2010 and started 12 of 13 games in 2011.

But he tore his left ACL during the 2012 spring game. He rehabbed tirelessly in an effort to make it back for part of the ensuing season but tore it again in September.

"He's a guy that's been through a tough deal," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "You go through two ACLs, the setbacks. He's a guy that's just put so much into it. As a coach, you get a lot of satisfaction to see somebody put so much into something. And now you're going to see them have the benefits of going out and playing, and that's really … what's fun about playing college football."

Powell is expected to play strongside linebacker and defensive end. The Gators are thrilled about having both Powell and sophomore lineman Dante Fowler on the field at the same time for their 3-4 and nickel packages. Fowler said that based on early practices, the combination could provide a lethal pass rush.

"It's going to be really nice having us on both sides," said Fowler, a graduate of St. Petersburg's Lakewood High. "We talk about it a lot. He said when I look at you on one side and I look at him on the other side, that should tell us it's 'go' time and we're ready to play.

"With what he had to deal with with two ACL surgeries, a lot of people would just be like, 'I'm done. I'm done with football.' But he never gave up. He kept pushing, and I can't wait for him to play."

Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin can only guess what today will be like for Powell.

"I don't know that I've ever been around a guy who has worked harder at rehab to get himself back ready to play," Durkin said. "I'll be very excited for him. Any time you have a guy who has gone through what he has gone through, you look forward to seeing that guy on the field. It will be great for him and our whole team."

Powell has no idea what this season will hold but said that's just fine. As he has throughout his journey back to the field, he's relying heavily on his faith. And in the end, he said, that will make all of the difference.

"My faith was definitely No. 1 (in my recovery)," he said. "A lot of times, I had to sit, get in my word and read my Bible. I leaned on the Lord and knew that whatever God has going for me and whatever He has in store for me, it's for me to come out on top and in His way."

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

Injuries behind him, Powell eager for Gators return 08/30/13 [Last modified: Saturday, August 31, 2013 12:13am]

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