A Battle of Nerves

Though listed at a menacing 6-foot-2, 320 pounds, even junior defensive tackle Jerrell Powe admits to having butterflies at first snap of any meaningful game for Ole Miss.

"That's something I've always struggled with in my life in big games," he said. "The first or second series, I'm always nervous. I've got those butterflies. I have to go to the sideline and get some Gatorade in me. It's always something I've struggled with in big games."

Good thing it's hard to tell.

Having totaled a team-leading 10 tackles for loss through 10 games, Powe is reaching Peria Jerry territory in terms of dominance along the defensive front. While having to battle through double teams regularly, the former five-star prospect from Wayne County has still managed two sacks and an impressive 25 total tackles on the year.

"He's really coming," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. "He's done an excellent job this year and has made some big plays for us. He's been disruptive. I just want to keep seeing him be consistent. But I tell you, the last three weeks he's really played hard."

"He's making tackles for losses that are big. I know that third down last week against Tennessee on the goal line was big," defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix added. "He's getting closer. Every week, we expect him to get a little bit better and he's heading in the right direction."

Last season, Jerry proved the value of a disruptive force inside.

Now with the Atlanta Falcons, the 2008 first team All-American ended his senior season first in the SEC in TFLs (18.0), fifth in sacks (7.0) and tied for sixth in forced fumbles (2). As the leader of the league's fifth-best defense, Jerry was constantly wreaking havoc in opposing backfields.

A year later, media and fans alike are seeing the emergence of an equally imposing figure.

"It all starts with pre-snap reading the offensive linemen," said Powe of his knack for disruption. "You have to put some cotton balls in your ears and watch the ball. I struggled in that area earlier in the season, but it's something I've gotten corrected."

Powe said the mental aspect of football is something he's had to consistently work on in his Rebel career.

"It's very important. You can be physical all you want, but if you're not pre-snapping and reading offensive linemen, you can't make as many plays," he said. "I've always been able to (read offensive linemen), but it's something I've definitely picked up more under (defensive line) Coach (Terry) Price. He talks about that a lot – reading their hand sets."

By now, most know the often-told story of Powe's three-year struggle to gain eligibility to play at Ole Miss. Somewhat lost, however, was his arrival weight in the fall of 2008.

Weighing in over 380 pounds, Powe could only be used sparingly over his sophomore season, with fatigue preventing the talented nose guard from realizing his great potential. He appeared in 12 games, but totaled meager numbers of eight tackles and 1.5 sacks. He also notched an interception against in-state rival Mississippi State to end the regular season.

But through a strict workout regimen and diet plan, Powe was able to trim 60 pounds of fat, while regaining some lost quickness and endurance for an already fierce motor.

Fast-forward to November, and the labors of Powe's hard work are obviously paying off.

"His weight, his endurance and his commitment to the game off the field," Nix said of how Powe has reached game-changer status. "That starts with eating habits and taking care of his body. He's done the little things that have offered him the opportunity to be a better football player."

Due to a strong junior year, thoughts of a departure to the NFL upon season's end don't seem far-fetched for Powe. However, similar to Jerry, he's a bit older than most in his classification due to a late arrival on campus.

But despite his status as an elder statesman at 21-years old, Powe said he isn't in any rush to take his game to the next level.

"I think I'm fine. Peria (Jerry) made it and he was 25," he said. "I'm not in any rush. That time will come when it comes. I've got one more year here, so I'm going to be patient."

For Powe, a 2:30 p.m. meeting with LSU on CBS carries more weight than most.

Along with Ole Miss, the Tigers were heavily involved in his recruiting process. So much so, in fact, the Bayou Bengals were one of his finalists as a possible collegiate destination.

However, apparently unimpressed with an almost-signee in Powe last season, the scouting report in his first action against LSU wasn't flattering from the opposing sideline.

"It definitely does (have a special meaning)," Powe said of the significance of Saturday. "I have a lot of friends on that team and some coaches who made some statements last year. ‘I'm glad we didn't get Powe, he's not even playing there;' that's what a couple of my buddies on the team told me the scouting report said. I've got something to prove."

But like all big games, expect some butterflies.

"Against LSU, I'll definitely have some butterflies," he said. "I like to joke in the game, but that first or second series, I'm probably not saying anything. I have to get the feel of it. But once I get a feel of them, I'll be fine."


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