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January 6, 2010MORE: Army All-American Bowl coverage
SAN ANTONIO - He's rated as the best weakside defensive end and No. 5 prospect by Rivals.com, a true freak-of-nature athlete who plans to play at USC or Florida. But Ronald Powell was almost booted off his high school team as a freshman because - as Powell admits - he didn't care about much.
"I really didn't care too much about school," Powell said. "I didn't care too much about the team. I didn't care too much about anything."
At the time, Powell was getting in fights, making trouble, had a bad work ethic and was seemingly going nowhere.
Moreno Valley (Calif.) Rancho Verde coach Pete Duffy sat Powell down in his office that year to make something clear: Straighten up or get kicked off the team.
"The first time (Duffy) gave me a warning and I didn't take it too seriously," Powell said. "He called me in and he said it's going to be a wrap, get it together. I got it together and did what I had to do for my team and started getting more of that leader feel."
Duffy's message made Powell rethink his choices. What also helped was the mentoring by former Rancho Verde teammates Tyron Smith and DeShawn Grayson, now at USC and UTEP, respectively.
Along with Powell's family - which he calls his backbone - those two players guided Powell through the difficult times into what he's become today, one of the nation's best high school football players being coveted by two of the nation's most high-profile programs.
"It was difficult first coming in as a freshman, getting an opportunity to play varsity as a freshman," Powell said. "That opportunity changed a lot of things for me. I don't think I'd be where I'm at right now if I didn't have that opportunity and my head coach, my whole coaching staff and my family have been like a backbone to me. Without those people I probably wouldn't be here today.
"(Grayson and Smith) are great leaders and I was someone who wasn't. They taught me all that I know and that's all I can do is lead by example and step up to the plate and take their place. Their exact words were, this is Coach Duffy: 'If you listen to me you'll be able to go anywhere you want to go.'"
First, Powell plans to pick either the Trojans or Gators. He could make his decision Saturday at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl but hasn't put a firm timetable on an announcement.
If Powell continues to work hard and develop, Rivals.com recruiting analyst Barry Every said there's no reason he cannot play on Sundays.
"Not only is he a tremendous overall athlete with great body structure, he can play either strongside or weakside eventually," Every said. "That's what I like about him. Everybody is going to say he's definitely a weakside guy because he's so fast off the edge but he's strong and he has a frame where he's going to get bigger.
"He can be an interchangeable defensive end. I don't think there's any doubt, barring injury or just him not wanting it, that he won't be in the NFL ... Speed, size, ability, everything is outstanding from a physical standpoint."
Powell's college decision comes first and many believe the Gators have a slight edge because of his relationship with Florida coach Urban Meyer.
The two grew closer over the summer when Powell made two trips to Gainesville, but the relationship complicated in recent weeks when Meyer announced he was taking an indefinite leave of absence because of unspecified health reasons.
Meyer and Powell have talked since then with Florida's coach trying to smooth things over regarding his status.
"There was a point in time where that was a letdown," Powell said of Meyer's health status. "I got a chance to talk to him and see where everything was at. It was more than Urban Meyer on why I decided to consider Florida. Just like USC, there's more to USC than just Pete Carroll. I'm deciding on those two universities.
"(Meyer) told me what he was telling everybody else, that he's not going anywhere, he's going to be a Gator. He said there are little health issues and a little stressing and other than that he's going to be a Gator."
East offensive lineman Damien Robinson, a 6-foot-8, 330-pounder who's considering Ole Miss, Tennessee, Mississippi State, Oklahoma and Arkansas, will be one of those responsible for trying to stop Powell and the West's defensive front, which also features five-star defensive end Owamagbe Odighizuwa.
It's going to be a tall task.
"That's pretty much our main job," Robinson said about handling the West's defensive ends. "Our defense, I think our defense is a lot better than the West. I know it's going to be good competition, but I'm still going to work hard. I've got a feeling (the West) is going to bring something a little different."
Powell is something different these days - grown up, mature and ready to dominate in college and beyond. His past is behind him and the future looks positive.
"I'm staying grounded," he said. "None of (the rankings) mean anything to me. This is more of an opportunity to be a leader and lead by example and try not to get big-headed. I'm staying humble."
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