- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Like other football fans, Ronald Powell watched with fascination as Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season.
But Powell was more than just interested to see if Peterson could break the NFL’s single-season rushing record. He was in awe that Peterson was playing at such a high level after returning to the field less than nine months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL.
It reinforced his belief that his own comeback from the same injury could be just as successful.
"It gave me reassurance on, ‘You know what? You can come back from this injury and you can do the things that you want to achieve. You can be that player you want to be,’ " Powell said. "Seeing Adrian do that stuff was like, ‘Man, hey, you can do it.’"
So far so good for the 6-foot-4, 234-pound redshirt junior buck linebacker. Florida coach Will Muschamp said Powell has been impressive so far during preseason practices. He’s moving as well as he did before he suffered the original injury during Florida’s spring game in 2012.
"As far as his quickness, change of direction and initial quickness off the ball, he looks very good," Muschamp said. "We feel very good with that. We’ve got to be very selective with him on what we’re asking him to do throughout practice. We need a fresh player on Aug. 31. What I’ve done is mark periods of when he’s going and when he’s not going, just making sure we’re taking care of that. When you come off that, it’s a tough deal, especially two of them. I’ve been very pleased with where he is."
Muschamp said Powell, who led the team with six sacks in 2011, had been one of the Gators’ most impressive players in the spring before suffering his injury. Powell was on track to return by the middle of the 2012 season but suffered another tear in September and underwent a second surgery and redshirted. It was a rough time for Powell, who signed with Florida in 2010 as the No. 1 recruit in the country.
"The most difficult thing was to not be able to play, to not know how I’m ever going to be playing again or if I ever will play again," Powell said. "Just that thought process of losing something that you love so much. You live your whole life based on this game because it teaches you so much. You love the game and then it could be a support system for you, and it’s gotten me to college and things like that. Those things you take into consideration and you say that factor is gone, it’s scary, man. It’s scary.
"I think about it and I know when it first happened to me, I kept thinking about the people that lose their jobs at 30 years old, 40 years old and they can’t handle it. They commit suicide and things like that. At the first point of my life, I had to realize that it may come a time where it’s life without football, so that was the hardest thing."
Fans have been eagerly awaiting Powell’s return, and the expectations of his impact have risen to Peterson levels. That’s just fine with Powell, though.
"You know what, man? I love it," he said. "They’re excited to see me. It’s supporters. It’s fan support, so I love it. I love what they’re saying and everything. They’re saying, 'Wait until Ronald Powell gets back,' and I’m kind of saying, ‘You know what, wait 'til I get back.’ But my ‘wait 'til I get back’ is a lot different than theirs, because my expectations are so much higher for myself."
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