Teradja Mitchell Stayed at Ohio State for Fifth Season with Sights Set on Winning National Championship, Bouncing Back After “Difficult” 2021

By Dan Hope on April 11, 2022 at 8:35 am
Teradja Mitchell

Teradja Mitchell entered the 2021 season with expectations of being a breakout star on Ohio State’s defense. He ended the year barely seeing any playing time.

Going into last season, Mitchell was positioned to be the leader of Ohio State’s linebacker corps. He was one of six Buckeye players selected as a captain before the season, and he opened the year as Ohio State’s No. 1 Will linebacker, where he started eight of the Buckeyes’ first nine games last season.

In the Buckeyes’ final five games of the season, however, Mitchell played only 34 total defensive snaps. Steele Chambers usurped Mitchell as the starting Will linebacker, and Mitchell’s role was reduced to playing mostly on special teams.

Given that, Mitchell could have considered moving on from Ohio State and using his fifth and final year of collegiate eligibility elsewhere. Ultimately, though, Mitchell wanted to stay true to the commitment he made to Ohio State nearly five years ago, on June 2, 2017, when he became a member of the Buckeyes’ recruiting class of 2018.

“I'm big on loyalty,” Mitchell said Wednesday. “I committed to this school back in 2017, and I’ve been all in ever since. Just because it doesn't go my way, that doesn't mean for me personally, that don't mean to just shy away and run away. I'm gonna keep attacking this thing and God has a plan for me. I’m gonna keep working.

“I committed to this place back in 2017. Once I committed, I committed. I’m staying true to this program. I love this program, I love Coach Day and what he's done. I'm all in.”

Mitchell said last year was “difficult for sure,” in part because of what he described as “life-changing situations” that happened in his personal life. While he didn’t want to get into specifics about what happened, he said the turbulence in his life off the field affected his focus on the field.

“I just wasn't in the right place mentally,” Mitchell said. “I even had moments where I didn't even want to play football anymore. But I’m back on the right track.”

Mitchell said he has been hard on himself as he’s watched his film from last season, and he recognizes he didn’t play well enough as Ohio State’s defense struggled all year long. But even though he has yet to make a consistent on-field impact for the Buckeyes through his first four seasons on the team, he remains confident he can do so in 2022.

“I feel like I can be a starter here,” Mitchell said. “That's my mindset.”

After playing Will linebacker for the past three years under the tutelage of former linebackers coach Al Washington, Mitchell has been moved back to Mike linebacker – the position he was initially recruited to play at Ohio State – by new defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Jim Knowles. He feels more comfortable playing that role.

“I love middle,” Mitchell said. “That's what I played in high school. Just being in the middle of everything, you have to take command of things.”

Now the elder statesman in Ohio State’s linebacker room after recruiting classmates Dallas Gant and K’Vaughan Pope both transferred elsewhere, Mitchell is now playing for his third linebacker coach as a Buckeye. His initial recruiter at Ohio State was actually Luke Fickell, though he never played for Fickell, as Bill Davis was his position coach in 2018 before Washington replaced him in 2019.

Mitchell says it has been “crazy” playing for so many different coaches in his Ohio State career, but he recognizes that’s part of the business of college football. And he says he’s loving playing for Knowles in the Buckeyes’ new defensive scheme.

“I love this defense,” Mitchell said. “It's variable, we're aggressive, we're attacking.”

As of right now, Mitchell doesn’t appear to be the frontrunner to start at Mike linebacker. While Mitchell took some first-team reps during last weekend’s Student Appreciation Day practice – the last practice that will be open to the media before next weekend’s spring game – Tommy Eichenberg took the majority of the starters’ reps at Mike, and Knowles has talked about Eichenberg as someone who he expects to play a substantial role in this year’s defense.

But Knowles also praised Mitchell during his most recent press conference as someone who has been a leader for the linebacker unit.

“Teradja is also a guy who leads in more of a vocal way than Tommy, but he gives us a lot of that energy,” Knowles said.

With nine scholarship linebackers all competing for position on the depth chart this spring, Mitchell has to battle just to earn a spot in the rotation, as Cody Simon, Chip Trayanum, C.J. Hicks, Gabe Powers, Reid Carrico and Palaie Gaotoete are also all in the mix trying to earn playing time behind projected starters Eichenberg and Steele Chambers.

Mitchell is determined to prove he belongs on the field.

“I've had some obstacles, and I’m overcoming them now and I'm ready to show the world,” Mitchell said. “A lot of people doubt me, so I’m ready to show the world.”

That said, Mitchell’s biggest goal for his final season at Ohio State is to help the Buckeyes win their first national championship in eight years. He says that’s the biggest reason why he wanted to return to Ohio State for one more year, and while the Buckeyes haven’t been able to close the deal in his first four years on the team, he believes they’re ready to get back to the mountaintop of college football this year.

“I want to win a national championship,” Mitchell said. “We’ve put in so much work, I think it's time. It's time for us to win a national championship. So I’m just excited to work for that.”

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