"I consider him the sleeper of this class," said University of Cincinnati head football coach Butch Jones.
Those remarks were about Brandon Mitchell of Withrow High School on Feb.2 (National Signing Day).
For those that had any reservations about Mitchell (and not many did since he was listed as a 'three-star recruit' by ESPN.com, Rivals.com, Scout.com and 247Sports.com) that should be enough ammunition for you.
In Mitchell's case, a summer verbal commitment stood. Prior to that, his services were sought by Ball State, Western Kentucky, Akron, Western Michigan, Kent State and Bowling Green. That list might not floor you, but most college coaches don't define their recruits by "stars" or by who else has recruited them.
The staff at UC believes they have a special "find" in Mitchell and the 6-2, 290 pound lineman is enthusiastic about staying in town. The decision was for his current family and for his "new family".
"It took a lot of thought," said Mitchell. "I had to go to the campus a couple of times to get a feel for it. I got real, real comfortable with the coaches, the players. I talked with my family about it and they felt good about it. They've got a really good family environment. It was the family atmosphere they gave me up there that really convinced me."
"Even though I'm coming here, I'm not just a football player, I'm part of that team, part of that family," said Mitchell. "Even after I leave, I'll have people there to back me if I need it."
Of course, switching to a field no more than 10 minutes away from Withrow has its advantages, for Mitchell and his fans.
"They can come right down the street and watch me play football," said a smiling Mitchell. "D-tackle, causing wreckage."
The talk sounds arrogant, but it's really just confidence oozing from a guy that appears to be the "gentle giant". However, several area offensive linemen and quarterbacks can attest to the fact that Mitchell wasn't so gentle on the field.
As the only two-way starter for the Withrow Tigers, Mitchell has a clear preference...he'd rather chase the quarterback than block.
"It's definitely more fun to sack a quarterback," said Mitchell. "Blocking's OK but, knowing you've got the QB and that's the top man on the other side of the ball, it feels better."
A lot of Mitchell's technique comes from the sheer strength of being a 300-pound (during football season) man. What some might not know is that Mitchell has some extra agility and balance from another sports he's participated in for some time.
He's one of the area's best wrestlers in the 285-pound class.
Mitchell's been wrestling since he was in seventh grade and is listed with just two defeats at press time (including one to Elder's Nick Nusekabal in overtime-he's hoping to get that one back before the season's up).
"It helps with my balance and my lateral movement," said Mitchell of his mat skills. "It helps me get inside and move people out of the way more often than usual. I feel like when you wrestle, you have an advantage over people with those skills that you have."
Among those that have seen Mitchell wrestle is UC associate head coach Kerry Coombs. Coombs is also in charge of rounding up local recruits like Mitchell and knows the local football scene like the back of his hand.
"Before he ever gets on the mat, he does an hour of study table," said Coombs. "Then, he moves all the tables out of the cafeteria. Then, he puts the mats down on the floor. He spends two hours just getting ready to practice wrestling."
"Then, he practices for four hours," said Coombs. "He doesn't complain. He doesn't have any 'star complex'. He just gets up and does his work each day."
Not that Kerry Coombs is ever at a shortage for words, but he raved more about Mitchell than any of the other local products.
"He's the same kid day after day after day," said Coombs. "His Mom's done a tremendous job raising him. He is going to be the guy that everybody talks about a couple years from now in this class. He's going to be a dominant force in the middle of our defense."
Mitchell has already met a number of current Bearcats and has his hopes set on joining them on the field this fall. That's on the field, not just the sidelines.
"I feel if I work hard enough and show what I can to do in practice and off-season training, I'll probably have a good chance of starting this season," said a confident Mitchell.
He has seen up close and personal how the Bearcats practice. In fact, one preseason practice in particular sold him on the team before he had even played a down for Withrow his senior season.
"What really sold me was probably one practice I went to at Higher Ground," said Mitchell. "I saw them playing football and I saw how much family atmosphere was up there, how good they treated one another and the intensity."
Some see structure and discipline and run, others like Brandon, embrace it. Those attributes have served Mitchell well and (again) Coach Coombs credits Mitchell's wrestling background for his external and internal toughness.
"I find the area that it helps most in is that you are all alone on
that mat," said Coombs. "You've got to stand tall and have tremendous
courage to wrestle in any class. If you're like Brandon at 285 and
you're working to make that weight each week--the discipline involved--I
think he's just going to be a phenomenal player for us."
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