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Not Powerless Anymore : Promising Notre Dame Quarterback Ron Powlus Is Healed and Ready to Achieve Greatness

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Page 87 of the inch-thick Notre Dame media guide belongs almost entirely to quarterback Ron Powlus, which is interesting because Powlus has spent more time behind X-ray machines than centers.

Powlus has never taken a snap that counts at Notre Dame, thrown a pass that matters, made a handoff worth remembering. He hasn’t played in a game, even been in uniform for one. He has, however, become close personal friends with the Irish team doctors and trainers. It even says so in his team biography, which stretches on like a prairie vista.

So explain then how Powlus leads the Notre Dame sports information department in interview requests, how his medical report persuaded The Sporting News to make the Irish its preseason No. 1, how Coach Lou Holtz gets all warm and fuzzy at the mention of the sophomore’s name.

“It’s a little strange,” said a slightly embarrassed Powlus. “I hope all this is happening because people are planning on me doing some good things. I’m planning to do some good things.”

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A year ago Powlus was Notre Dame’s starting quarterback--or at least that was the plan. Holtz hadn’t come right out and said it, but he didn’t have to. There were drool marks.

Powlus, the most celebrated Irish recruit since Paul Hornung in the ‘50s, was treating his first fall practices as if they were a personal audition. Official statistics weren’t kept (Holtz wouldn’t allow it), but word trickled out. In two scrimmages Powlus had completed 23 of 36 passes for 436 yards, five touchdowns and not a single interception.

Holtz, who generally treats his quarterbacks like vacuum bag dirt, knew he had found a replacement for Rick Mirer. So did everyone else, especially after hearing him rave about Powlus on “Larry King Live” one night. The only question was when to make the official announcement.

As it turned out, Aug. 28, the date of the third and final Irish scrimmage, had a nice sound to it.

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About that sound. . . .

On the fifth play of the scrimmage Powlus broke his right collarbone. It was the fracture heard ‘round South Bend.

Holtz immediately named senior Kevin McDougal the starter, but began counting the days until Powlus’ expected return in late October, plenty of time for the Navy, Florida State and Boston College games. Nothing against McDougal, who played admirably, sometimes spectacularly, but Holtz liked the idea of having Powlus available.

So what happens? During a simple non-contact throwing drill, Powlus cracked the same bone in the same place. End of season.

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“I’m watching from the sidelines,” Powlus said. “I couldn’t believe what was happening.”

Until the injuries, Powlus had never missed a practice or play in his life. Now he was in a sling and later, when the bone had healed in time for this year’s spring practices, in a yellow jersey. A yellow jersey means no one can hit you. You’re fragile. You need protection.

Powlus was humiliated.

“I was begging for (full contact) in the spring, but they wouldn’t let me do it,” Powlus said. “I wanted to get hit.”

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Holtz knew better. He knew the 6-foot-4, 218-pound quarterback wasn’t fragile, just invaluable. There was no McDougal this time around.

Rather than risk another injury, Holtz picked his spots. In the annual spring game, Holtz summoned Powlus from the bench and then watched as Powlus, on his first play, faded back and found tight end Pete Chryplewicz for a touchdown. One pass, one score. Easy.

Touch his right collarbone and you can feel a small knot, but that’s about it for mementos. The hated yellow jersey has been retired for fall practices, which means Powlus can hit and be hit.

“I’m totally just like everyone else,” said Powlus, who also wears no special padding on the clavicle.

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Powlus exaggerates. He isn’t like everyone else, which explains why he quizzed Mirer, now starting for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, about life in the Notre Dame aquarium. Mirer told him to have fun, but swim carefully.

Powlus did as told, but like Mirer--and every other Irish quarterback before him--he has discovered that low profiles are hard to come by. For instance, after Powlus’ October injury, rumors began to surface.

Powlus, born and raised in Berwick, Pa., wants out. . . . He is going to transfer to Penn State or Pittsburgh. . . . Did you hear he might go to Miami?

If you enjoy fiction, it was wonderful reading.

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“I’m going everywhere,” Powlus said of the rumors. “I have no idea (how they started), not a clue. When I got hurt, people thought I was going to transfer because I was mad at Notre Dame.”

Mad? Powlus fell in love with the place three years ago, during a visit to the campus as a high school junior. The only way he leaves now is if Holtz threatens him with another yellow jersey.

During his forced absence, Powlus watched the Notre Dame program from both near and far. He was on the team, but he wasn’t. It was an odd perspective.

“I got to watch and see what’s going on with Notre Dame football,” he said. “I was just realizing what I’m getting myself into here.”

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What he got himself into, he said, “was big-time football . . . big-time college football.”

So the belated career of Ron Powlus is under way. Or so it will be Sept. 3, when Notre Dame plays Northwestern at Soldier Field in Chicago. Until then, Powlus hopes for a media guide wish to come true.

It’s on Page 87, under, If someone granted me three wishes, I’d request . . . .

Wrote Powlus: “The rest of my career injury free; national championships; three more wishes.”

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If Powlus stays sound, he might not have to worry about the other two.


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