April 19, 2012

Ryan Powis, the man in the middle of it all

Ryan Powis says he now feels like a natural fit as Army's starting center, but his West Point career didn't start out that way.
First of all, Powis wasn't planning to attend West Point, even though his family is deeply rooted in the Army.
His father Paul retired from the Army special forces a major and his mother Cynthia from the Nurse Corps a captain. His uncle, David Plaza, is a 1976 West Point grad and retired lieutenant colonel. Powis' football career is a new branch on the family's Army tree.
"They're all accomplished in the Army, but this is another accomplishment," he said.
And where ever Powis played college football, he didn't expect to be a center. After all, he never snapped a football in high school as a two-way lineman. But shortly after arriving at the USMA Prep School in 2010, the coaching staff converted him into a center. As a West Point plebe in 2011, he quickly moved into the starting lineup for the Black Knights' last eight games.
Now, three years since Army began recruiting Powis the summer before his senior season at Midlothian (Vir.) James River, the 6-0, 257-pounder says he realizes center is his best position at the Division I level.
"On my recruiting trip, they said they were going to look at me as a guard or a center," Powis said. "When I told them I had never snapped a ball, they told me, 'We'll see when you get here.' They liked my speed and agility.
"The first two days (at the prep school), I was at guard before they switched me to center. It was frustrating at first. I couldn't even snap the ball, but I eventually became the starter. I would say it's by far my best position. I've always been a shorter lineman, and you can get away with it at center."
Despite Powis' lack of ideal height, he is standing tall in the middle of a veteran offensive line for a team that led the nation in rushing last year. He has a ready answer when asked how a triple-option offense that was No. 1 with 346.5 yards rushing a game can improve.
"We want to capitalize on more scoring opportunities," Powis said. "A lot of times we went end zone to end zone, but we didn't push it in and score. We want to lead in the nation in scoring. We want to back up the yards with scores."
To that end, the Black Knights must reduce their fumbles in addition improving their scoring offense and redzone scores.
Army was 120th out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 22 lost fumbles. The Black Knights ranked tied for 84th in redzone scores (35 of 45, 78 percent) and 76th in scoring offense with 298 points.
By comparison, Alabama led the nation with only four lost fumbles, Stanford was No. 1 in redzone scoring (67 of 69, 97 percent) and Houston led in points with 690.
The fumbles, of course, are the responsibility of the skill players. But Powis says returning three starters -- and fourth lineman with experience as a starter -- will improve the offensive line's blocking as a group.
"Each game I started last year, I felt better about the cohesion of the rest of the offensive line," Powis said. "With a freshman in there, we had to get comfortable together and we started working better together.
"It's going to be a big advantage for us. We know each other better and we're friends. We don't want to let each other down. That bond keeps us accountable."
Powis also says this year his teammates up front won't have to keep one eye on him and another on their own assignments.
"Last year I had a lot to learn and I was lucky to have a lot of older guys around who have played who helped me with the reads and the steps," Powis said "It won't be one step forward and one back while they're teaching me. We're all on the same page moving forward together."
The three returning starters are Powis, eight career starts; senior left guard Frank Allen (6-foot-4, 261), a third-year starter in 2012 with 25 straight starts in 2010 and 2011; and right guard Matt Villanti (6-foot-3, 262), six career starts.
Villanti missed spring ball while recovering from offseason surgery, which allowed junior Zach Reichert and sophomore Stephen Shumaker to take snaps alongside Powis in the spring. Powis and Shumaker played side-by-side at the prep school.
The tackles will be both new starters with senior Will Wilson (6-foot-2, 290) on the right side and senior Ben Jebb (6-foot-5, 243) at left tackle. Jebb will be making his first career start, but Wilson has the experience of three starts last year at center.
"He's done a nice job in there," Army head coach Rich Ellerson said of Wilson's move. "He's another one of those guys that you have to be careful with. He's like a Swiss Army knife. He can do so many things, but we owe it to Will to let him settle in and be the guy at tackle unless somebody can chase him out of there."
Wilson is still competing with junior Michael Kime (6-foot-2, 243) and Jebb with sophomore Nick Bennett (6-foot-1, 238) and junior Dan Whitaker (6-foot-3, 242).
"We're very optimistic," Powis said. "The spring game was a great success. A lot of people got a chance to show their talent and ability. Between the cohesion the team gained last year and the returning starters and new players this year, I think this will be a successful season."

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