Is there a position that doesn't suit Ronald Powell?
The Moreno Valley Rancho Verde High star has played defensive end, tight end, defensive tackle, running back, wide receiver and middle linebacker at various points during the last three years.
When Powell first stepped on campus as a hulking freshman, Mustangs Coach Pete Duffy thought he might make a nice offensive tackle.
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior enters his final high school season rated by some recruiting services as the nation's top defensive end.
Not that he figures to play there much in 2009 . . .
With standout middle linebacker Eric Martin having moved on to Nebraska, Duffy wanted Powell to inherit the spot most crucial to his team's 4-3 defensive scheme.
"He was our biggest, fastest, strongest guy," Duffy said, "so we just moved him there."
Moreno Valley Coach Ted Wadkins said the switch makes sense. Teams will no longer be able to gear their offenses toward running away from Powell with him planted in the middle of the field.
"That's going to make them a better football team," Wadkins said. "If he buys into what they want him to do there, he is going to be dangerous."
Powell will also play receiver and running back this year, but there was a time not so long ago when he almost found himself without any position. He said he nearly got kicked off the team a few times in the wake of confrontations with teachers, coaches and teammates.
"In most cases it was a male teacher and there was a little friction there," Duffy said. "What [Powell] thought he was giving off wasn't what that teacher was getting. I had to try to explain to him what perception was, that what you think you're giving off doesn't matter; it's what they get from it."
Powell said the discussions with Duffy and members of his inner circle helped him mature into what his coach described as "a pretty conscientious kid."
"Just them talking to me, it just hit me that this could be something serious," Powell said. "Then I started setting goals for myself and that's how it happened. I've really grown up."
The only four-year varsity player in Duffy's 13 years as a head coach, Powell has become a captain this year, learning along the way that leadership entails sacrifice.
He said the position switch is part of doing whatever it takes for Rancho Verde to avoid another early postseason exit. After winning their first 10 games last season, the Mustangs lost to Norco in the first round of the Southern Section Inland Division playoffs. They had lost in the second round in each of the previous two years.
"It's something for the team, not for me, to get to our goals and where we want to be," said Powell, who had 13 sacks and 61 tackles as a junior. "I'm kind of trying to make things change this year."
He conceded that the transition hasn't always been easy.
"It's kind of like you know what you have to do, you know how it's supposed to be done," he said, "there's just something about it" that makes it difficult.
Powell, who has narrowed his college choices to USC and Florida, could resume playing defensive end at the next level. First he wants to make an end run around opponents at his new position.
"I've been here since my freshman year playing varsity football," he said, "so I feel this is my team and I have to carry it on my back as far as being a leader and getting my guys going and bring out some of the other leaders on this team to do what we have to do to get to our goals."
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Top 10 defensive linemen
The Times' top high school defensive linemen in the Southland. Expanded list available at www.latimes.com/preps.
*--* PLAYER SCHOOL HT,WT CLASS COMMENT Ryan Edwards Long Beach Poly 6-2, 275 Senior Starter on terrific 2008 defensive unit. Marcus Howard Inglewood 6-2, 260 Senior The next Lawrence Jackson. Cassius Marsh Oaks Christian 6-5, 295 Senior Tough, physical player. Troy Niklas Servite 6-5, 245 Junior Should be top prospect for 2011. Ronald Powell Rancho Verde 6-4, 230 Senior He's fast, strong, relentless. Kirifi Taula Servite 6-4, 275 Senior Could be best in Trinity League. Greg Townsend Beverly Hills 6-4, 240 Junior Athletic player making steady progress. George Uko Don Lugo 6-4, 300 Senior A true big man on campus. Brent Williams Taft 6-3, 205 Senior Washington commit had 13 sacks. Antwaun Woods Taft 6-2, 285 Junior Already being wooed by UCLA, USC. *--*