For Mike Mitchell, Home is Where the Linebackers Are
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A long road traveled is always made better when you finally find yourself at home. The glut of miles passes away into memory once the destination is reached and warm familiarity can begin to set in.
Photo by Dan Harker
For freshman linebacker Mike Mitchell, his destination was Ohio State, and the long road traveled was in the most literal sense. A Texas high school All-American, Mitchell spent time in Florida during his formative years before his family finally found their way to the Lone Star State.
Growing up in Florida, and then playing high school football in Texas, ending up at Ohio State would have to be considered a long shot. However, in life – as in recruiting – you just never know when home is going to end up finding you.
For Mitchell, home found him the first time he came to Columbus.
"Right now most of my family is in Texas," he explained, "and I wanted to stay with them, but after I came to Ohio State and visited it, I loved it so much. It's almost like a religion. They have NFL teams, but this is the team for all of Ohio, so everybody loves them."
It also didn't hurt that Ohio State has a long, storied line of linebackers going for them. A head-snapping history of bruising intimidators who traded helmet paint with each snap, and wore grass and blood stains like a badge of prideful indifference.
Why, it's every growing boy's dream.
"I love the prestigious linebacker history," Mitchell said.
"All of the linebackers that have gone here, like A.J. Hawk, and I'm a big fan of James Laurinaitis. I watch a lot of his game film. Just to be able to be under them – we went through the roster of linebackers at Ohio State, it's awesome."
Few places are more chock full of great linebackers than Ohio State. All-Americans litter the record books like Smiths in a phone book. It's really quite impressive, especially if you are an impressionable young linebacker looking for a college that feels like home.
To listen to Mitchell talk about Ohio State's hallowed halls of harm, it's clear that it has had a considerable effect on him. It's also clear that he'd love to be mentioned in the same breath as his hard-hitting heroes.
He's gone through the ledgers, he's seen the numbers. Every page turn just leads to more history. Heck, give him a few more weeks, and when it comes to linebackers, Ohio State historian Jack Park could have some competition on his hands.
He rattles off the names of recent Buckeye linebackers with equal parts memory and anticipation. Like when he's talking about A.J. Hawk and his 'backer brothers.
"He's a big guy and I like his athleticism too," Mitchell said of Hawk. "He's one of those tough linebackers that came out of here with Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel."
For all his accolades, A.J. Hawk was never a middle linebacker. So for a young kid like Mitchell, it's no surprise that he turns to three-time All-American James Laurinaitis when looking for somebody to emulate.
"Just the fact of how physical he is," Mitchell explained. "But also his brain, just as a linebacker. He recognizes so much stuff on the field. He's a great leader. His linebacker I.Q. is really high."
That emulation has found its way to the practice field successfully, and somewhat surprising. Mitchell is currently backing up Curtis Grant at middle linebacker, and he's doing everything he can to be noticed by his coaches and teammates.
One such teammate no longer needs an introduction, however, because he already received one on the practice field.
"Mike Mitchell hit me one time on a tunnel screen," freshman buzz-causer Dontre Wilson said this past weekend. "I wasn't looking and he just leveled me. But you know, it's football, you've gotta be tough."
Mitchell's own football I.Q. was on display during the play, as was his ability to tackle the whirling Wilson, who to this point has seemed untackleable.
"It was a little screen pass that I recognized," Mitchell said. "The ball just got in his hands and I was able to lay a big hit on him. It was fun."
If Mitchell is already reading and reacting after just a week of practice, that tells you how comfortable the young middle linebacker is right now.
When Mike Mitchell chose Ohio State, he did it for several reasons. The history at the linebacker position was certainly one of them. The chance to play quickly, and to play for Urban Meyer were others.
Ultimately, however, he chose Ohio State because it felt like home. Now, over a week into camp, his comfort level is showing, and suddenly home finds him living a legacy that a few months ago was simply words on a page, pictures on a wall, and trophies on a shelf.
Every long road traveled is different than the last, but Mitchell is hoping that his arrival resembles that of the great Ohio State linebackers before him.
After all, it's not where you came from, and it's not how you get there, it's what you do when you finally arrive that matters most.
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