This is what the New York photographer said to Powlus's parents toward the end of his senior year in high school: "What a great kid. Too bad we're gonna ruin him."
This is what Lou Holtz said about him after seeing him at the end of the summer before his freshman season: "It's obvious when he traces his ancestry, it will go back to Krypton, not Europe." Also, the week before he snapped his collarbone the first time: "He's starting."
This is what goes through your mind-when your bones seem to be snapping like kindling, even though you're drinking enough milk to supply a preschool: You're dying. "I mean, I finally said to the doctors, 'Is there something wrong with my bones?' " Powlus says. The doctors said no, his bones were healthy.
This was the skit everybody remembered from the student comedy review during Powlus's freshman year: An actor playing Powlus was sitting at his desk. He dropped his pen, reached to get it and broke his arm. Everybody laughed. Powlus didn't go.
This is how Powlus finished the sentence on the sports-information-department questionnaire that read, "Since coming to Notre Dame, I've learned——": how to read X-rays.
This is how many times Powlus lost in his first college season: 5.
This is how many times Powlus lost in his entire high school varsity career: 5.
This is what he said when he lay there with his dreams and his arm shattered last year after things had just begun to go so well, after he'd won seven of eight games and was finally getting people to climb off his back, what he told everybody in the hospital room through all the sniffles and tears and shocked expressions: "Hey, we'll be all right. This is just another character builder." And that's when his mom smiled and said, "Ronnie, how much character do you need?"
This is how much character he has: When his best friend from Berwick, Chris Blockus, was struggling at Mansfield (Pa.) University, Powlus called him nearly nightly to encourage him to hang in there. He sent Blockus inspirational quotes and stick-to-it cards. "You can do it," he would say. "You're a great student. Keep plugging along." And Blockus got to thinking, How could I let down the quarterback at Notre Dame? So he stuck it out, and he graduated. Now he travels all over Pennsylvania, working with foster kids, and sometimes he encourages them by saying, "You can do it. Keep plugging along." He would probably never tell his buddy this, but he's telling you now: "I'm a helluva lot better man just for having known him."
This is what Powlus wrote in big block letters and hung in his dorm room: FEAR IS NOT FATAL.