Enter Spring ball 2006. The Trojans are without both Bush and White, as well as the heirs apparent to the throne, Hershel Dennis and Chauncey Washington. Without a single impact tailback taking part in spring practice, the prospects for another season of ground game dominance look bleak.
Enter Ryan Powdrell. The six-foot, 250 pound linebacker went on an offseason blitz that penetrated into the Trojan backfield, and that’s where he stayed. With the lack of a proven running game, Powdrell was told that he would be given every opportunity to carry the ball during spring practice from both the fullback and tailback positions.
“From the beginning of spring ball,” Powdrell said, “Coach Carroll said that we were going to show everyone what I can do with the football. And from my first carry, I think everyone was pretty surprised by what I can do with the football in my hands. I think I definitely made a statement.”
While Powdrell may have been making statements behind closed doors of the practice field, Sunday, April 9th served as Powdrell’s exclamation in front of close to 15,000 huddling, cardinal and gold supporters. With ten carries for 81 yards, including a 56-yard rumble, Powdrell was easily one of the surprises as well as the highlights of the scrimmage.
“I thought I did okay,” Powdrell said of his performance in the Huddle. “I fumbled it a couple of times. I’ve just got to get used to holding onto the ball with two hands in traffic and expecting that contact.” After putting up a great effort during the scrimmage, it was surprising to hear Powdrell’s critique of himself.
“There are a lot of things I can work on and I can definitely polish my game overall. By just watching from the stands, I know that people thought I had a pretty good game. But I’ve got to be harder on myself and force myself to play better.”
It’s obvious that Ryan Powdrell is physically solid with his compact frame and great athleticism. But it’s his mental preparation, attitude and approach that will help him just as much in his quest to make a mark on the Trojan backfield.
“I’m just looking to go out there and do my best,” Powdrell said. Yet the cliché seems heartfelt when coming from Powdrell. “I really want to show the coaches that I can both block and run with the ball. I want to help the guys get better, and ultimately, my goal is to help the team win anyway I can.”
Powdrell’s mental preparation will come in handy as he continues to make the transition from offense to defense, from tackling a blocker to blocking a tackler. “Since I’m coming into a new position, I know that I’ve got more to learn than most of the other guys. But I’ve had so much help from both coach T-Mac and Coach Carroll. They’re really helping me out a lot in terms of polishing my game.”
As evidenced by his outstanding play during spring practices, Powdrell is becoming more and more comfortable in the offensive backfield. “I think everyone saw me coming into this year strictly as a fullback, but I think I showed that I could play tailback as well. I think I’ve got the speed, athleticism and strength in order to contribute there. I’m feeling very confident and comfortable with the ball in my hands.”
But when it comes to the fullback versus tailback debate, Powdrell is still on the fence. Although it does seem like he would be just a little happier if he could be on the fence with a football cradled in his arm. “I guess I can’t really say which position I feel most comfortable with. I mean, I do feel really good with the ball in my hands. I still have that mentality though, when I’m running with the ball I’m looking for guys to run over and run through. But I enjoy doing both. I like making blocks as well.”
His passion for both carrying the ball and making it easier for tailback to carry the ball was evidenced by his selection of his favorite plays from the scrimmage. “I mean, I’ve got to say my 56-yard run. It was a long run, but still, I let the ball a little loose at the end.” It wasn’t just that play of his that stood out to Powdrell though. “Actually,” he added, “I’d call it a tie between that play and when Brandon Hancock scored his touchdown. I feel like I made a real good block on the backside during that play and I was happy with that.”
When it comes to blocking, and fullback play in general, Powdrell feels that he’s been able to learn from one of the best, even though they’ve never suited up in the same backfield. “At the fullback spot, you’ve got to look at a guy like David Kirtman. I know that I definitely have the physical ability to play the position, but for me, it’s all in knowing who to block and in which direction. That’s one of the reasons for Kirtman’s success. If you look at it, a lot of Reggie’s big runs were because of David Kirtman.” Powdrell referenced the long run against Arkansas as being one of the easiest plays to see Kirtman’s effect on the running game.
With the noted success of the Trojan running game, Ryan Powdrell is fully aware of the kind of impact he could have on the offense next season. “I think that I have it down physically, and I’m getting the mental part down as the practices go on. But right now I feel confident that I could start and that I could be a big factor.”
In order to do that, Powdrell understands that he still has a learning curve to conquer. “I’ve obviously got to work on hanging onto the ball when I’m running. There’s also a lot of little stuff as well. There were a couple of plays we were running, 12s and 13s, where I was cutting back too soon. On one play during the scrimmage, Rey (Maualuga) made a nice play on a 12 (a run up the middle to the right of the center) where I should have stayed more to the right, but I cut back too soon. Little techniques like that I know I can get better with.”
But in talking with Ryan Powdrell, it’s impossible not to notice the passion he has developed for offense and the confidence he is gaining at his new positions. “Hey, I never pictured myself playing tailback at ‘SC and actually carrying the ball. But I get a great feeling once I start running with the ball and making plays.”
Not only has Ryan Powdrell illustrated his ability as a great team player by switching positions and filling in wherever and whenever needed, he has demonstrated his brilliant athletic ability by taking advantage of that opportunity and making “Ryan Powdrell – Trojan Tailback” sound a little less strange.