Powell regains confidence under Strong

Bilal Powell has regained his confidence under first-year coach Charlie Strong and emerged as the new 'face' of the Cardinals program. Why does Strong have so much faith in Louisville's senior running back? Because Powell does things the 'Strong' way: He goes to class, stays out of trouble, and shows up every day to practice ready to work.

Why does Louisville coach Charlie Strong call running back Bilal Powell the new 'face' of Louisville's football program?

Simple. Powell is Strong's kind of player – a guy the UofL coach wants his players to emulate. That's because the senior back does things the 'Strong' way: He goes to class, stays out of trouble, and shows up every day to practice ready to work.

Powell doesn't enjoy the spotlight. He also doesn't enjoy media interviews. But Strong is expecting Powell to shine brighter than he ever has at Louisville this season. And that means the spotlight that Powell abhors will shine directly on him.

"Bilal Powell is the face of this football program," Strong said. "He doesn't say much but he leads this team with his presence. He's a quite young man and doesn't like to talk in front of the cameras. He doesn't say anything, he just works."

Strong recounts a team meeting in which Powell stood before his teammates and opened up about his troubled upbringing. Powell's honesty not only drew respect from his teammates, but from Strong, too. Since then, Louisville's head coach has noticed a positive change about Powell.

Bilal Powell has emerged as a confident, though quiet, leader under Charlie Strong's direction.
"To watch him change and become the person he is right now is unbelievable," Strong said.

Strong recruited Powell at Florida. He remembered Powell running through a Lakeland team that featured seven Florida signees and won consecutive Florida state titles as a senior. Strong knew Powell had talent when he arrived at Louisville. He also knew Powell hadn't lived up to his potential during his first three seasons at UofL.

"Bilal Powell was the only good player on that team and Florida signed seven guys that year from Lakeland," Strong said. "Bilal had like 230 yards and if they had given him the ball at the end he would have won that game by himself. They couldn't tackle him.

"When I came here I told him I remembered watching him play in that game and how well he played," Strong added. "And I told him, 'You're not playing that way right now and I need to see that Bilal Powell."

After getting into the best shape of his career last winter, the old Powell – the one Strong watched against Lakeland in high school – re-emerged during spring drills.

"This spring he ran through our guys," Strong said. "They couldn't tackle him."

What does Strong attribute Powell's re-emergence?

"He had it within him it was just getting his confidence back," Strong said.

There is no question Powell's confidence diminished steadily under Steve Kragthorpe's guidance, losing a team-high three fumbles last season. But that was the old Powell. Now, there's a new coach at Louisville; and a new Bilal Powell.

"I just think he lost a little bit of weight and he's faster and that gave him more confidence," said starting quarterback Adam Froman. "If he wants to run over you he can do it and if he wants to run around you he can do that. He's been doing that since spring."

Junior defensive tackle Greg Scruggs has also witnessed Powell's transformation since last season.

"He shed weight and he's movin a lot faster," Scruggs said. "I think he's got his confidence back. I don't know what caused him to lose it, but you can just see in Bilal that he has his confidence back. He's running hard and trying to be a playmaker. He's doing whatever it takes to help us win."

Powell was second on the team in rushing last season with 394 yards and four touchdowns. Bigger things, though, are expected from the 6'0, 215-pound running back this season.

"He's pretty tough [to bring down]," Scruggs said. "He feels like Brandon Jacobs when he hits you. He brings a load with him. He's really tough and he won't go down on the first touch."

With some question marks at quarterback and wide receiver, Strong is counting on Powell and junior running back Victor Anderson to provide the Louisville offense with a strong running game this season. Powell appears up to the task.

"I admire Bilal because he not only works hard on the field, but off the field," Scruggs said. "Bilal has come a long way. He is somebody that I admire and look up to because he's a great player, a great teammate, and he's always positive and upbeat."

"If there's something he has to say to you it's not yelling or in a negative way," Scruggs added. "Bilal will just walk up to you and say, 'pick it up,' or 'you're better than that, I know you are. Is something going on?' I really believe Bilal Powell will be the face of Louisville football."

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