During what felt like every week he was healthy, Florida coach Will Muschamp or offensive coordinator Kurt Roper would spend time in their press conference talking about what an exciting talent Brandon Powell was and what kind of role he could play in the offense.
That same talk carried into practice before every week. The coaches would talk in meetings about plays that had been put in for Powell and ways to get his speed and elusiveness involved on the field. They’d run the plays in practice, preparing for what was to come on Saturday.
And then nothing happened.
“I heard it every week, you know, ‘we’re going to run this, do that.’ It never happened,” Powell said on Monday at SEC Media Days.
With Jim McElwain and the new coaching staff in town, the faith in Powell has changed. First, they moved him to slot receiver full time in the spring. He looked like a competent playmaker before a foot injury forced him to miss the remainder of spring practice.
Then came the biggest surprise of them all. McElwain wanted Powell to represent the program at SEC Media Days, becoming one of two sophomores at the entire event. The other sophomore is LSU running back and Heisman Trophy candidate Leonard Fournette.
“It shows a lot,” Powell said. “Now that they’re taking me to SEC Media Days (it) shows that they think that I’m supposed to be a big part of this offense. Now it’s just on me to work and better myself and my teammates so we can make this offense one of the top offenses in college football.”
For McElwain, it was a no-brainer. The new staff has fallen in love with Powell’s ability, starting as early as when McElwain watched Birmingham Bowl practices in December after getting the job. It carried into spring practice when Powell looked fluid and disciplined as a route runner while playing exclusively receiver for the first time in his life.
It’s the off-the-field impact that played a big role in McElwain’s decision to bring Powell to SEC Media Days. McElwain has seen how much Powell is respected by his teammates.
“He’s one of those guys that has proven he can affect our team in a lot of ways,” McElwain said. “Our team kind of looks to him a little bit. He’s a quiet leader and a guy that works his tail off. At the same time, I think that he’s a guy we look to highlight on offense a little bit coming out of spring.”
On the field, McElwain saw a playmaker. With his long track record of producing quality offenses, Powell was one of the players that caught the head coach’s eye in the spring. For an offense that has searched for playmakers over the last five years, the sophomore should be featured in the Florida offense this year.
He’s especially valuable because he could be featured in a number of ways. After playing mostly running back last season, Powell has now learned the ins and outs of playing slot receiver at Florida. Despite being listed as a full-time receiver, McElwain said it’s possible they could use him out of the backfield to throw off defenses this fall.
“His ability to go out and play in space is something (that) we’ll be able to do some things where we shift him back in the backfield,” McElwain said. “It’s not going to be out of character that he can take a handoff. He can even protect. In the quick game, you do some shifts and motions and put guys in some spots, hopefully not allowing the defense to narrow in on where a guy is.”
After playing at 175 pounds last season, Powell bulked up to 186 pounds this year but managed to keep his quickness. The defensive backs all want to face him in player-run practices, knowing that it will make them better to go up against someone with his speed off the line. Even the All-American of the secondary tries to get some extra reps against Powell.
"He's really quick,” Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said. “His first couple steps are lightning fast, and that's the toughest part. If you can stay with him on the line, you have a chance to make a play but that's the hardest part of staying with him off the ball. That's his game. I tell him that's what he needs to work on and that's his strong suit."
Powell should help take some of the pressure off Demarcus Robinson in the passing game this fall, making it tougher for defenses to focus in on one receiver like they were able to last season. The sophomore said it’s his goal to be the next great playmaker at Florida, but even more than that, the current offensive players want to bring the offense back to where it has been in the past.
The players on the team grew up watching Florida’s dominant offenses pummel opponents. They’ve heard plenty from those around the program that want to see things get back in that direction.
“We hear it all the time,” Powell said with a grin. “You go anywhere, go to the store and you hear fans talking, ‘what about the offense?’ Come Sept. 5, we’ll see. Everybody has been working. We’ll see this year.”