The minute defensive tackle Jerrell Powe stepped on campus, he could sense the expectations.
Fair or not, many projected Powe to make an immediate impact as a freshman. Being one of the more highly-touted recruits to sign with Ole Miss, he was seen as the next in a long line of Rebel defensive greats, despite the fact he hadn't seen live action in over two years.
Suffice to say, Powe had some adjustments to make. Dropping some pounds topped the list, as he weighed well over 350 pounds upon arrival.
Powe showed flashes of greatness over his frosh campaign, but not to the extent some had predicted. However, now entering his junior year, he's more motivated than ever.
It's funny how a strict diet can change a man.
"Jerrell Powe continues to excite us," said Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt. "He's lost a lot of weight and is quicker and harder to block. He's tougher and penetrating like he's supposed to. He's also got more confidence. The difference in him from last spring to this spring is not even close. He wasn't ready last year. Now, he's coming."
And with a vengeance.
Powe has had one of the more impressive springs of any Rebel so far. The former five-star prospect has trimmed down considerably since the Cotton Bowl, dropping 21 pounds for a weight of 329.
Fast food and delectable sweets no longer have a place in Powe's everyday meal plan. Now the junior focuses on calorie counts and carb control.
"I'm a lot quicker," Powe said of the lost poundage. "Things could be better though. I want to lose about 20 more pounds and get down to 310. Things could be a lot better. I'm kinda getting the rust off."
Defensive line coach Terry Price has also seen a different motor from the junior during spring drills.
"The weight loss has really helped him," Price said. "He's moving around a lot better. We still have to shore some things up technically, but he's playing hard. He's a big man who is explosive. We just have to get him tuned in."
While Powe saw action in 12 of 13 games last season, his production was often limited due to fatigue.
With the weight he once carried, the former Parade All-American from Wayne County simply wasn't conditioned enough to be a reliable every-down lineman.
Nutt said the work Powe put in over the offseason has helped translate to a strong spring.
"(Last year) he just wasn't ready after being away from the game," said Nutt. "Now, after a year in the offseason weight room with Coach (Don) Decker, the weight loss and more knowledge of what we want done, it makes it a lot easier."
After losing senior Peria Jerry to graduation, the emergence of Powe is a welcomed sight.
Jerry accounted for more than his sack totals during the year, asserting himself as one of the better Rebel leaders in the team's 9-4 season. However, Powe believes Ole Miss won't be lacking in the leadership department.
Despite running with the second team behind starters Ted Laurent and Lawon Scott, he has led by example. He's leaving the talking to the seniors.
"I'm trying to help out a little, but we got some good senior leaders in Greg Hardy, Marcus Tillman and those guys," he said. "They're doing a pretty good job of leading."
Few can doubt the resolve and work ethic of Powe, who has gone to great lengths to simply gain the chance to compete at the collegiate level. He's a fierce competitor with a passion for football unmatched by most.
Having dropped some weight and with his confidence growing day-by-day, Powe appears poised for a breakout year in 2009.
The Rise of Powe
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