Terrance Mitchell was The Guy in High School.
For the Luther Burbank Titans in Sacramento, California, he was Metro League Offensive MVP and an all-city cornerback. A shifty tailback with speed, he dashed for 2,630 all-purpose yards as a senior with 24 touchdowns, spearheading the defense with six interceptions, a forced fumble and one blocked field goal.
Not in my house: Terrance Mitchell skies for a pass breakup against Oregon State in the 2011 Civil War. A physical corner with great cover skills, Mitchell always wants to take on the opponent's best receiver. (goducks.com photo)
At the Nike Training Camp at Stanford that May he was defensive backs MVP, and the Ducks offered him a scholarship.
Nike Aliotti joked that he'd have to hide him from Chip Kelly. For once, Aliotti won one. T-Mitch enrolled early, passing up his senior year of basketball (he'd averaged 17.5 points a game as a junior) and made an early impression in spring practice.
His high school coach John Heffernan told Lindsay Schnell of the Oregonian that Mitchell had the stuff to play immediately in the PAC-12. He told her, "He's a fantastic athlete and he's only gonna get better," Heffernan said. "He's very explosive off the ground -- he plays the ball very well, like a receiver."
"The bigger the challenge, the better he performs," Heffernan said. "He always played his best games in our biggest games. He's not afraid of the big stage."
A true freshman with four months on campus, Mitchell picked off Darron Thomas on the first possession of the Spring Game and returned it 46 yards for a TD.
After a frustrating year redshirting, he got tabbed for a start in the first game of his college career, against #4 LSU in the Cowboys Classic in Dallas. It was a tough night. Matched up against Rueben Randle, a big, physical receiver for the Tigers, #27 gave up a 10-yard touchdown pass. It's part of the life of a young cornerback. Your failures hit the Jumbotron three times.
"It was just, ‘Welcome to NCAA football,' ” Mitchell told Matt Walks of the Oregon Daily Emerald.
Terrance hung on, battled and competed. He started 12 games as a redshirt freshman and played in all 14, returning an interception out of the end zone for 36 yards, against Washington State, making Chip Kelly jump up and down for joy in the 2012 Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin, stripping Badger receiver Jared Abbrederis at the Oregon 27-yard line, with Michael Clay falling on the fumble with 4:06 to play in the game.
Mitchell led the team in pass breakups and had 45 tackles. By mid season he was joined in the secondary by another freshman cornerback, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
In November the Ducks faced USC in Autzen, and Robert Woods was tearing it up in the first half with a couple of touchdowns. In the locker room at halftime, Mitchell said, "let me take him." He did, holding Woods to 15 yards in the second half. Marqise Lee went wild on the other side, but that's another story. Mitchell had 8 tackles and a pass breakup as the Ducks lost by a field goal.
“All my life with sports, you always find a challenge,” he told Walks. “I’m from Sacramento, man. We always wanted to play against the best person.” Mitchell tugs at his jersey unselfconsciously and lowers his eyes. “That’s what it’s all about.”
As a sophomore he started every game and broke up 8 passes. Teams started throwing more to the other side, and Ekpre-Olomu, another talented, physical corner, was getting all the attention, picking off four passes and returning one to the house, forcing six fumbles, always around the ball. Ekpre-Olomu was voted All-Conference, and a 2013 preseason All-American. The 6-0, 189-lb. former Titan star was honorable mention.
Now both juniors and projected NFL draft picks, both are nominated to the Bronk Nagurski and Jim Thorpe Watch Lists. But it's Olomu that's mentioned first, Ifo that gets sent to PAC-12 Media Days. Mitchell accepts it, taking an "it is what it is" approach, getting his work in, striving to get better.
“Confidence takes you a long way,” Mitchell said to Rob Moseley of the Register-Guard. “You can have fake confidence and real confidence. I’m trying to have that real confidence, to the point where I’m back in high school, where nobody fazed me. I was still humble, don’t get me wrong. But I wasn’t worried about anybody.”
Only Ekpre-Olomu is left among the cornerbacks named to the All-PAC-12 first and second team last season. Stars like the Beaver's Jordan Poyer and Washington's Desmond Trufant have left for the NFL.
But accolades don't drive Terrance Mitchell. His focus is on being the best and competing against the best, something he learned in a supportive family. His sister Saycha was an all-conference defender at Texas Southern University. He told Adam Jude in a Register-Guard interview last season that he still talks to his father two, three times a day, and that strong relationship has been an inspiration to him. The two mapped out a plan for his success when he was a little boy. Jude tells the story:
The source of Mitchell’s confidence rest prominently on the inside of his right forearm. There, the face of his father — his closest ally — is intricately inked, a constant and permanent source of motivation.
“He’s always right here with me,” he said.
Terrance Jr. was 6 years old.
It wasn’t longer after that when the father sat down his young son and asked him what he might like to do with his life.
“Doctor, lawyer, piano, whatever,” Dad said, promising to help him achieve whatever goals he set.
“Dad, I want to play big-time college football,” the son responded.
“OK, then,” Dad said. “I’m going to tell you exactly what to do, and if that’s what you want do, and you listen, you’ll go."
Terrance Mitchell's path isn't completed. The attention given to others, the notoriety of being a star athlete in a small college town, the pressure of high expectations, the trivial irritation of being relatively overlooked, none of that phases him. He just wants to win and compete. That greatness is tattooed in another place, in his heart.
Interestingly, when you stop to think about it, most scholarship kids were standout athletes (a prerequisite) at schools that (in most cases) won most of their games, often because of that standout athlete. There is no "I" in team, but having a Tyner or a DAT or a Mariota is often enough to give a high school program an insurmountable edge at that level, where talent is rare and unrefined, even when well coached.
Some kids like Mitchell commit to a team like the Ducks and continue winning, but those spots are few and far between. For every Oregon, Alabama, or Stanford, there is a Colorado, a Tennessee, or Washington State, and it wasn't too many years ago when you could have reversed the order of those teams to make the same point.
Is it coaching? Recruiting? Money? Facilities? Could the excellent staff at Oregon turn around Colorado with the talent they have now, this season? Could money buy a trip to a bowl, this season? I'd argue that about 100 FBS teams are equal in talent, yet culture, attitude, and confidence make as much of an impact as coaching. They're all winners. They're all great. They just don't all thrive.
"Secondary" is only a term we use to establish position but with the talent we have, I think we need to rename the position to "Primary". I think last year's interception stats can double this year
Check out the new helmets for 2013. Far out!
Terrance was the lock down corner until teams started picking on Ifo and finding out that was another dead end. I love having two guys that not only "lock sh*t down," but also take care of their off-field business.
I think an extraordinary coaching staff that can also recruit well would be first. A solid reputation for the school would be second. Money, which establishes facilities, would be third and fourth would be luck.
@zduckfan You make an interesting point, Z. Colorado, Tennessee and WSU were winning bowl games a few years ago. The Vols won a national championship in 1998. Washington State had three straight ten win seasons 2001-2003.
@Duckbill I like your confidence. We won't play USC this year unless it's in the PAC12 title game. That would be perfect; to have beaten Stanford, UCLA, USC and rivals Washington and Oregon State, go undefeated and play for national title in the Rose Bowl. It can't get better than that.
@Duckbill DB, Farmer tore his ACL and MCL. He's out for the year. Ducks won't meet Arizona State or USC unless they do so in a PAC-12 Championship Game. But you are absolutely right about Lee and Agholor, the ultimate test for Oregon's two corners, big receivers with speed.
@duckified Not only are Ekpre-Olomu and Mitchell exceptional, backups Troy Hill and Dior Mathis are solid, and there are three returning starters at safety in Dargan, Jackson and Patterson. Ducks led the country in interceptions last season with 26 returned for 501 yds and 4 tds.
@goducks58 Both are very dialed in. Urban Meyer should take note: when you handle disciplinary issues properly, it gives you an opportunity to reward talented players who doing things the right way, and some of those kids can turn out to be stars.
@duckified @zduckfan There is an element of luck, of timely fortune, in every great season. Remember Morgan Flint's field goal that hit the crossbar and bounced over, or Nate Costa's hold? Remember how when Terrance Mitchell stripped the receiver, the ball just dropped dead at the sideline instead of skittering out of bounds?
@duckified @Duckbill Yeah, a little luck on a pair of 42 yard field goals would have been nice.. Duckbill, I would tend to agree that it takes a blend of all of those to make a great team. The most important quantity I didn't address in my post was time. It takes time to build culture. It takes time to instill confidence, to train a man up, and make a group of men believe.
Without a doubt, believers make their own luck. Faith IS that extra half-step a player takes when they truly believe someone has their back. Trust IS that fullback staying on the gas for half a second more because he believes the crease will be open when he gets there. Hope is the last refuge of the weak...
Meyer lives in a different world, where the emphasis to Win The Day comes from people (boosters, directors, elder statesmen) who will punish or fire him for not looking the other way. The lack of ethics in collegiate sports in the east, particularly in the SEC and B1G, is top down in my humble opinion.
There are those in our society to whom winning is everything. Their actions (not my opinion, but their actions) speak loudly and clearly that they do not care about giving students a quality education or guiding them on the perilous journey from boyhood to manhood. It is obvious that they believe in using kids for whatever talent they might have to attain the goals of the university and then dumping them to the curb when it becomes expedient to do so.
Again, in my humble opinion, men like Meyer are loathesome and unworthy of the respect they are given in their world. The damage they do to society only becomes apparent later in life, when the ticking time bombs they have created (like Hernandez, but so many others who never found fame) finally go off.
@Duckbill @Dale Newton @duckified Mathis is a 10.5 100 guy and was a 4-star recruit. So many PAC-12 teams like to employ the 3 and 4-receiver sets, so the Ducks need him. Next year he could be a starter. The way football goes, he could be a starter two plays into the season. Great to see him asserting himself in practice, competing.
I've looked at their performance last year and decided it was a fluke, a miracle like 2010 was for the Ducks. I don't believe they'll go undefeated again. Karma would dictate a 3 loss season, but they'll probably only lose two.
Northwestern and Pitt. Maybe Purdue instead of Pitt. Wisconsin won't challenge them. Nebraska may, but I have my doubts that the Cornhuskers will be worth a crap either. Wisconsin, 5 in a row...
@zduckfan Sadly, the win at any cost mentality is prevalent in much of the football world and our society in general. Meyer has achieved instant results at Ohio State with his methods, but already he has infused the culture of his program with the same festering taint he allowed in Florida.