- Associated Press - Friday, August 20, 2010

OXFORD, MISS. (AP) - For six years, everyone else has had their say.

Now it’s Jerrell Powe ‘s turn.

As the Mississippi defensive tackle enters his senior season, he’s in the best shape of his life, he’s on the verge of earning his degree and he’s up for a handful of national awards.

His message to the people who said all those mean things about him over the years?

“Go buy a paper and read about the positive stuff now, and keep it positive,” Powe said. “You hit the wrong guy. And go spread rumors about the good stuff like you were telling people about the bad stuff.”

There was plenty of bad stuff.

Fans of rival teams picked up on a quote attributed to Powe’s mother and spread rumors across the Web that he couldn’t read. Critics of college sports said he didn’t belong in the higher education system. Even the NCAA piled on, accusing him in a news release of using help to qualify, then forcing him to prove he could make it in college for a year before relenting.

It’s been a long journey, one of the longest any college senior has had to undertake.

Was it worth it? A slimmed down Powe, who looks nothing like the tubby, uncertain guy who entered college as a 20-year-old freshman, says you had better believe it.

“I’m close to getting my degree, which is the most important thing in my life, and I’m close to obtaining my goal, and that’s to play in the NFL,” Powe said. “I don’t know what the outcome will be but I’m close, so I’m excited to see what will happen.”

So are the folks at Ole Miss. Powe is a nominee for the Outland, Lombardi and Nagurski awards. Some draft analysts list him among the top seniors at defensive tackle in the nation.

After all this time, Powe says he’s ready to show he deserves all the accolades.

“To be honest with you, I should be able to hold up to the expectations,” he said. “You can expect that. I don’t mean to sound cocky or arrogant or nothing, but I feel like I’m working that hard, where I’m going to be the best defensive lineman in the country. That’s what I want to be and I’m putting my grind in.”

Powe entered training camp at about 317 pounds and hopes to be about 310 when the season starts. There have always been flashes of the athleticism and speed that made him one of the nation’s most-sought recruits his senior season at Wayne County. He had all the accolades, appeared on all the lists. There’s a story _ perhaps apocryphal _ that Bill Parcells said he was NFL-ready even as he was coming out of high school.

All that promise meant little, though, when he failed to qualify.

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