Lighter Load

IRVING, Texas – Before Ole Miss pounded away a 47-34 win over Texas Tech in the 2008 version of the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, the story was the same for junior defensive tackle Jerrell Powe.

While his substantial weight loss has been well-documented, Powe tipped the scales on the heavy side all of last season. At one point, he weighed in well over 380 pounds. And in limited action against the Red Raiders almost a year ago, the former Parade All-American out of Wayne County totaled only one tackle to his credit.

But with the Rebels back in Dallas for the second straight year, Powe can sense a drastic difference this time around.

"(The coaches) always joke with me about my weight situation last year," Powe said Tuesday, as he team prepares to face No. 21 Oklahoma State Saturday at 1 p.m. in elaborate Cowboys Stadium. "I did tell them I would get down and help the team. I did a good job of getting my weight down. It was hard work, but I did it."

On the year, Powe stepped in admirably for the now-departed Peria Jerry. He appeared in all 12 games for Ole Miss, nine starts, while tying for the team lead in tackles for loss with 11 and notching 30 total tackles.

"The weight loss helped my confidence a lot," he said. "The level of playing I've had this year has gone up. Playing behind Peria Jerry last year, I really didn't get to see the field as much. But to be able to earn the starting position early on in the season definitely gave me a confidence boost."

Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, who never minds sending a weight joke Powe's way, has seen the 6-foot-2, 320-pounder become an impact player this season.

"He was not an impact player when he first got here," said Nix. "He was 385 pounds and couldn't play but a couple of snaps. He had to earn everything he's gotten and he has done that. If you recall, he was not a starter at the beginning of this year. He worked to become an impact player and he proved he could do it. The bigger the commitment and the bigger the challenge, the more he responded. I am very proud of him and what he has accomplished."

"It means a lot, especially when you hear it from Coach Nix," Powe said of Nix's glowing praise. "He never really gives you a bunch of good comments. When you get a good comment from him, it's really big."

Powe acknowledged he'd like to lose "around 10 or 15 more pounds" to better his game all around. Though he's become a disruptive force in the middle of Ole Miss' underappreciated defense, even Powe will admit he isn't the pass rusher he'd like to be.

"The next thing he needs to do is to get his weight down to 315 pounds and become a Peria Jerry type, a kid who can play against the run and the pass," Nix said. "Jerrell is very good against the run, but he's got work to do with his pass rush. If he will lose about 10 more pounds, he can be an effective pass rusher. He's strong enough. He needs to become more explosive and quicker. He knocks people back now, but he needs to become a penetrator as well for his next step up."

But when the Rebels finally meet OSU, a least Powe won't have to worry about often catching his breath.

"It's a big difference from last year. I'm breathing better," he said. "Losing all that weight, I'm able to move better and can go more than three or four plays a series. It's helped me out a lot."

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