- Edward Aschoff, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jim McElwain’s quest to revitalize Florida’s now-slumping program begins and ends with repairing a middling offense.
No offensive position is immune to renovation in Gainesville, and a lot of what happens going forward will depend on who can step up and create some excitement with the ball. Florida hasn’t had enough of that over the last five years, but McElwain and his staff believe they might have found at least one answer to this lingering problem in pint-sized form.
That answer is 5-foot-9, 181-pound wide receiver Brandon Powell, who moved from running back when McElwain and Florida’s new staff arrived a few months ago. After a freshman season that brought flashes but never enough consistent attention, Powell is out to really make a name for himself as he attempts to restore some respect to Florida’s receiving corps.
“The whole spring [the new coaches] were trying to figure out who their playmakers were, and I guess I was making plays so they started to put me in the rotation a lot more and I started picking things up a lot more,” said Powell, who registered 217 total yards of offense last season at both running back and receiver.
Powell, who is lining up in the slot, outside and even in the backfield, is no stranger to making changes for the greater good of the team. Primarily a running back at Deerfield Beach (Fla.) High, Powell saw time at receiver and corner and returned kicks. Last season, Powell made somewhat of a transition to receiver late in the year.
Receiver film from McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s pasts at Alabama thrilled Powell, and Rashard Higgins' 1,700-yard breakout season at Colorado State last season had Powell anxious to play in a more wide-open, pass-friendly offense.
But even getting to this point was an ordeal for Powell.
Powell was committed to Miami for all of his senior high school season after a nose blow of a Tennessee commitment the previous summer. Powell was all set to enroll on a Wednesday in early January -- bags packed and ready for class -- but a Miami coach called to inform him the school had to push his signing/enrolling date back because of a paperwork issue that Powell said none of the other early enrollees had. Powell believes the snag occurred because the coaches were waiting to see where current Georgia running back Sony Michel was going to sign.
No longer feeling like a priority, Powell decommitted.
“I was like, I’m not going to Miami,” he said.
Powell considered reconnecting with Tennessee, but a random call from former Florida coach Will Muschamp changed everything. Almost immediately, Powell had an offer from Florida, a school he hadn’t visited or been in contact with since his sophomore year of high school, and within hours he was committed to the Gators. His previous relationship with former Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper during his recruitment by Duke coupled with his father and coach’s insistence on taking an opportunity in the SEC in his home state swayed Powell.
Because Powell was an early enrollee, Florida had to rush to get his paperwork together and get it to him before the end of the day, which happened to be the final day for early entrants to enroll at Florida.
Less than 24 hours later, Powell was sitting in a UF classroom with only a few pairs of clothes and a toothbrush to carry to his new dorm.
Fast forward to now, and Powell’s gut reaction could pay off in a big way for the Gators.
“He’s a natural route runner and he’s got some initial in-and-out-of-break quickness,” McElwain said of Powell. “He gives you that ability to be your jet-sweep guy. You can get into empty, bring him back and still hand him the ball. You can create through motions and shifts and get him matched up on the inside.
“You can’t just say, ‘There he is. Let’s take him out of the game now.’ Brandon has done a great job of understanding that part of it.”
Powell’s emergence has come at a price, however. Last week, Powell re-aggravated a foot injury that has lingered since high school. Powell said he unknowingly played his entire senior season with a tiny fracture in his foot, thinking it was only soreness. Florida’s medical staff X-rayed his foot and found the fracture last year. Surgery was performed and screws were put in. Powell’s recent flare-up, though not thought to be serious, has sidelined him for the rest of spring, leaving him to take only frustrating mental notes until fall.
“It’s hard for me right to watch and learn what to do,” Powell said.
Any talk of Powell’s early work comes with adjectives like “smooth,” “fast” and “elusive.” His size doesn’t hinder him, he says. In fact, it’s an advantage in his eyes because his small figure and quick at-the-line speed have frustrated defensive backs unable to wrangle him early in his breaks.
Line him up in the slot and Powell is quick to smirk at the sight of a linebacker or safety lining up opposite him.
“I don’t think any of them can guard me,” Powell said with a smile.
The soft-spoken yet incredibly confident Powell has learned to be more physical, especially with his hands at the line of scrimmage. He’s gained four pounds but wants to pack on four more before the season. He has a new look, shredding his signature dreadlocks and changing his number to 4.
Despite an annoying injury, Powell is reinventing himself this spring. The hard-nosed jitterbug wants to be the spark in an offense looking for a pulse.
“The first two weeks of [spring] practice," he said, "I showed the coaches that once I catch the ball I can make something happen."
Jim McElwain's quest to revitalize Florida's now-slumping program begins and ends with repairing a middling offense.