August 26, 2009

Lighter Powe poised for big year

Ole Miss worked out for nearly three hours on Tuesday as the Rebels turned their attention to Memphis.

A year go, Jerrell Powe would have gutted his way _ pardon the pun _ through the grueling Mississippi humidity. On Tuesday, some 30 pounds later, Powe cruised through the workout.

"I feel a lot better," said Powe, who has worked through the first two-plus weeks of fall camp at some 320 pounds. "I move a lot better. I'm kind of standing up on my feet a little better than I was last year. I'm playing a major role. I feel a lot better.

"I'm not where I want to be, but I think I'm fine where I'm at. I would like to lose about 10-15 more pounds. I want to be about 315, 310."

Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt admitted Tuesday that there were times a year ago when he wondered if Powe could push away from the table frequently enough to get down to a manageable playing weight.

"The first few weeks when I first met him, I just didn't know if he'd be able to make that commitment," Nutt said. "But boy, it didn't take long. It didn't take long for me to see the kind of person he is."

The Rebels' defensive coordinator, Tyrone Nix, didn't share his boss' concerns. Instead, Nix saw determination.

"If you know anything about his character and what it took for him to get into school, as long as it took for him to have an opportunity to get out on the field, that spoke volumes in itself," Nix said.

Powe signed with Ole Miss in 2005. The former Waynesboro, Miss., star spent the next three seasons trying to forge a path to Ole Miss. He spent a year at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy and another year at Ole Miss, on scholarship but ineligible to play football. By the time he was cleared to play, Powe was overweight and rusty.

"Last year definitely helped me," Powe said. "I thought it wasn't going to take that long, but it definitely took longer than I thought it would to take the rust off. Now I'm just going out there executing and getting done what I want to get done."

Powe played in 12 games last season, recording eight tackles, 1 sacks and an interception in the Rebels' 45-0 win over Mississippi State. His season was also hampered by a nagging wrist injury, one that was treated with offseason surgery.

"It's gotten better since I had the surgery," Powe said, still sporting a heavy tape job on the once-injured joint. "I'm still working on hand placement. It's just something I still have to work on."

This fall, optimism abounds. Ole Miss is ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 and Powe feels as if he's on the verge of becoming the dominant player he was recruited to be. Nix would love to see that happen, as the Rebels are looking for someone to fill the void left by former All-American Peria Jerry, now a rookie with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons.

"Peria was a one-man wrecking crew," said Powe, who is essentially a co-starter in a rotation with Ted Laurent and Lawon Scott. "He was great, but I think we have a great unit. If we go out and execute together, we can fill that gap. I don't think it'll be a problem replacing him. I think we have a unit that can go out there and do that.

"I feel like if I go out and do what I'm coached to do, I can be that player. That's the same thing (Peria) did. He went out and did what he was coached to do every day."

"I see flashes of improvement," Nix said. "I see flashes of big-play potential. That's the same thing we saw in spring. We see it more on a consistent basis now."

The emerging game, along with the diminishing waistline, has provided a long-awaited feeling of peace for Powe.

"There's definitely a sense of pride," Powe said. "I feel a lot better. I sleep a lot better. Definitely when you go out there and be what people expect you to be, there's a big chip on your shoulder."

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