Slim's the Word

Waiting three years for his Ole Miss arrival in the fall of 2008, it's safe to say junior defensive tackle Jerrell Powe has endured more than most over his brief career in a Rebel uniform.

As a Parade All-American at Wayne County, media and fans jumped quickly at the potential the former five-star prospect possessed before stepping foot on campus. Based on pure athletic ability, most considered Powe the next in a long line of Ole Miss defensive greats.

But last season's debut for the legend that is Powe wasn't exactly earth-shattering. Considering the Waynesboro native weighed in over 380 pounds and dealt with an ailing wrist injury for most of the year, it's certainly understandable.

"It's gotten better since I had the surgery," said Powe of the wrist, which still sports a heavy wrap. "But I'm still working on hand placement."

Appearing in 12 games as a sophomore, Powe totaled eight tackles and 1.5 sacks. He also notched an interception in the team's 45-0 shellacking of in-state rival Mississippi State.

However, for Powe, those numbers aren't quite indicative of a man most deemed one of the top defensive tackles in the country coming out of high school.

"Last year, Jerrell just wasn't ready after being away from the game," head coach Houston Nutt said in spring. "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."

"It definitely took longer than I thought it would to knock off the rust," Powe said. "Last year definitely helped me. I didn't think it was going to take that long. But now I'm pretty much where I need to be. The thing now is just going out there and executing."

Since totaling only one solo stop in the Cotton Bowl, Powe has been on a mission when it comes to weight loss.

For most of the season, he could only be used sparingly, with fatigue preventing the talented nose guard from realizing his great potential. Powe's diet plan now consists of carb control and healthy alternatives.

He's trimmed down to a leaner 320 pounds, regaining some lost quickness and adding endurance to an already fierce motor.

"I feel a lot better. I can move a lot better and am staying on my feet better than I was last year," he said. "The weight is definitely playing a major role. I'm not where I want to be, but I'm fine with where I'm at. I'd like to lose 10 or 15 more pounds. I'm around the 320 range. I'd love to be 305, but my goal is 315."

However, Powe's weight loss was never a sure thing. Admittedly, Nutt wondered at times if the former Mr. Football of Mississippi could ever avoid the buffet.

"The first few weeks I met him, I just didn't know if he could really make the commitment (to lose weight)," said Nutt. "But boy, it didn't take long. It didn't take long to see the kind of person he is."

On the other hand, defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix saw purpose in Powe.

"If you know anything about his character, what it took for him to get in school and how long it took for him to get the opportunity to get on the field, that spoke volumes in itself," he said. "Nothing was going to stop him from achieving the goals he set for himself."

Practicing for nearly three hours Tuesday, Nutt put the Rebels through a rigorous workout in full pads. The session ended with a stint of conditioning, with the August humidity having yet ceased on a typical summer day in Oxford.

But unlike a year ago, Powe more than held his own.

"I think I could have gotten through it (last year), but it was just a little more exhausting," said Powe. "I was just a typical freshman coming in and learning the practice structure. I was learning how it was."

With a full year now under his slimmer belt, Powe appears poised to breakout in 2009.

Though he's currently running behind starters Lawon Scott and Ted Laurent, Powe is sure to see action in a well-rotated crop of defensive tackles.

"I see flashes of improvement and big-play potential," Nix said of Powe's improvement. "That's the same thing we saw in spring, but we're seeing it more now on a consistent basis."

As the defensive line continues the process of replacing defensive stalwart Peria Jerry, Powe's emergence in fall practices has certainly been a welcomed sight.

Selected 24th overall by the Atlanta Falcons in April, Jerry was the driving force for the Rebel defense last season, finishing with 18.0 tackles for loss and seven sacks.

"Peria was a one-man wrecking crew. He was great," Powe said. "But I think we have a great unit. If we go out and execute together, we'll be able to fill that gap. I don't think it will be a problem replacing him. We've just got to stick together as a unit.

"I feel if I just go out there and do what I'm coached to do, I can be that player. It's the same thing Peria did. He went out, took coaching and played every day in practice."

Having endured a demanding offseason workload to drop pounds, Powe can sleep better these days.

No longer does he have to worry about fulfilling unrealistic expectations or pushing away from the dinner table. Now, Powe's only focus is becoming the best player he can be.

"There's definitely a sense of pride. I mean, I feel a lot better," he said. "I sleep a lot better. I was just worrying about getting the weight off and becoming the player I need to be. When you go out there and do what people expect, it takes that chip off your shoulder."

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