In the lead up to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in 2013, Ohio State coaches and fans awaited with anticipation and angst usually reserved for a rivalry game. This time, they were waiting on word of where five-star linebacker Mike Mitchell would attend college.
The Texan’s recruitment was a much talked about subject. It even verged on spectacle when stories about the family mail man, an Ohio State fan, putting Buckeye mail on top emerged. Ohio State’s 2013 recruiting class already was considered one of the best in the country. But Mitchell’s pledge would act as a giant bow on top of a shiny object. When he donned an Ohio State hat in the Alamodome, a sigh of relief could be felt in Columbus.
Mitchell told Eleven Warriors at the time that he picked the Buckeyes due to a comfort level on campus. There were predictions of immediate success, the next in line in a proud linebacker tradition. But there was a major U-turn in one year.
Mitchell was injured in fall camp and ended up redshirting, even though Ohio State’s linebacker play was anything but impressive. When his father’s health declined, it sent the indomitable Mitchell into a funk. By all accounts, he never recovered and his father’s condition led to a transfer to Texas Tech.
In an interview with Fox Sports discussing his decision, Mitchell cited family as the overriding factor in leaving Ohio State and getting closer to his home in Plano, Texas.
“Honestly, a lot of it had to do with my family,” he said. “My dad’s health isn’t great. It wasn’t as bad when I left [for Ohio State], and for a while it seemed to be getting better. But now, it’s kind of not as good. Plus, I had an injury that really limited me on the field last year as well.
“But really, it was mostly about my family, about being back in Texas and being closer to them, being around them as much as I can.”
He left in good standing with coaches and teammates. Relationships were developed with Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell, coaches Mitchell called “great.”
“They have great football knowledge and taught me a ton about the game,” he said. “I’m grateful for them and grateful for the time I spent at the school. At the same time, everything happens for a reason. And I’m excited now to be moving on with the next chapter of my life.”
Despite redshirting, Mitchell was expected to factor into Ohio State’s linebacker rotation this season, adding depth to an area in need. Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry are the team’s returning starters, but Mitchell, along with Darron Lee, Trey Johnson, Chris Worley, Camren Williams, Raekwon McMillan, Sam Hubbard, Dante Booker and Kyle Berger, was a candidate to receive playing time.
Another moving part is brother Mickey’s commitment to Thad Matta. Mickey is a five-star forward who could be a difference maker his freshman season. There were rumblings of an impending de-commitment after Mike transferred, but those rumors have since been silenced.
Mike Mitchell’s story is one of caution. Injuries and outside factors contributed to his redshirt. Still, it can be used as a lesson in slowing down expectations of true freshmen. Competing at a high level and being named All-Big 12 or even All-American remains a possibility for Mitchell. His year at Ohio State, though, is proof that expectations can overwhelm and be a disservice to 17- and 18-year-olds.
Curtis Grant, Ray Small and others have shown over time that a few stars don’t guarantee instant success, nor does it limit outlooks. Recruiting is a hit-or-miss business with the misses often scorned. For the players, it’s once in a lifetime, unless, of course, they go through the process again.
Mitchell used many of the same words when asked why Texas Tech was the right school for him – comfort, coaches, etc. And he’ll use his experience from Ohio State and apply it to his next chapter in Lubbock.
“Really, playing there was just next-level football,” Mitchell said. “You get used to playing in high school, being the biggest, fastest guy, but playing on the college level, you realize everyone is just as skilled. I was able to improve as a football player a lot at Ohio State, learn from Coach Meyer and his coaching staff. It’s also other stuff, too. It’s time management, it’s being mature.
“I really did enjoy my time at the school. It taught me a lot about being an adult.”