Powell makes impact in return

Ronald Powell put his helmet on and ran onto the playing surface of The Swamp a few times when the Gators practiced in the stadium during the fall. He always knew the first game would be different, and Saturday lived up to the hype for the redshirt junior. Taking the field with fans in the stands on Saturday was different for Powell, who showed it by celebrating with an early sack.

After Toledo hit a 14-yard pass on its first offensive play of the game, the Gators forced an incomplete pass and stuffed a run up the middle. It was 3rd and 10, the Rockets needing to hit a big play in the passing game to keep the drive alive.

Ronald Powell knew what to do.

It was just like 2011 -- before two ACL surgeries, before the tears about missing football. Powell remembered what to do on 3rd and long, and he showed it, tossing Toledo quarterback Terrance Owens to the ground for a sack to force a punt and record his first sack of the season on his fourth snap on defense. And he knew he was back.

"It was just a feeling of ‘we did it' with the stunts we did up front to put me in position to get that sack," Powell said.

It was his only tackle of the day, but he did add three quarterback hurries, tying Dominique Easley for best on the team. Powell also had some big hits on Owens shortly after he threw the ball, playing perfectly into Florida's strategy of affecting the quarterback, even when it doesn't register as a sack.

Despite creating havoc in the offensive backfield, Florida head coach Will Muschamp still thinks the best is to come from Powell. There are always hurdles after serious injuries. First day in practice with contact is a big one, but just as important is the first game. Powell went through it and finished healthy on Saturday night. As he plays more and forgets about the knee injury, his pass rush could get even better.

"He had some anxiety hitting the field today, but that's natural," Muschamp said. "That's expected. He played fast and physical. He was where he was supposed to be."

Getting through the day healthy was the most important part for Powell. The nerves of game day should be gone as the Gators hit to road for Miami next weekend. He knows what to expect and is back in a better groove on the field.

"It was so good to be back out there," Powell said. "It was a little different. I hadn't done it in so long. It was my opportunity. No matter how many times we practiced in The Swamp, Saturdays are a great tradition around here."

After the game, a majority of the Florida roster sprinted to the locker room after the signing of the fight song. Powell took his time. He hugged Muschamp, spent time with the Florida assistants and staff members on the field and then took a quick jog over to the stands. He gave some high-fives to fans, soaking in the final moments of the day he returned to The Swamp.

In 2011, Powell might've shaken some hands of fans in the crowd. He might've hugged some coaches and spent some time with other staff members on the field.

What made Saturday different was his attitude.

"It's an appreciation," Powell said. "I appreciate it so much more. Before it was going down the sideline and touching fans hands before you go into the locker room, but I appreciate it so much more now.

"I take it as an opportunity that I'm given to go play in front of those people and the support they have -- it's a different feel for me now. I owe it all to my ACLs, I guess."

Powell looked around the defensive line on Saturday and remembered why he loved the game. His close friendship with defensive tackle Dominique Easley poured onto the field where the two enjoyed their time together. For the first time in their careers, Powell was on the field with the player he has mentored, Dante Fowler.

It was an important day for Fowler to get healthy, but more than anything, the defensive line had fun being back together.

"We can be as disruptive as we want to be with Fowler, Bullard, Easley, Leon Orr," Powell said. "We only can beat ourselves. If those guys go out there and play as hard and as well as they've been coached to play, I don't see anyone being able to block those guys.

"We're very close as a unit up front. We take pride in brotherly love. We have fun out there and remind ourselves to have fun."

Fightin Gators Top Stories