Former NFL linebacker Ken Mitchell has no problem now being known as the father of Mike Mitchell, the five-star linebacker from Plano, Texas who’s set to sign with Ohio State today, officially becoming one of many gems in the kind of recruiting class Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer always seems to put together.
Ken Mitchell also has no problem sharing his thoughts on why his son chose to play for Meyer at Ohio State.
“Urban told us the weather up there in Columbus is just like it is in Orlando,” Ken Mitchell said via phone this from his home in Plano. “He also told us it’s only about an hour and half drive from here.”
He was kidding.
Meyer’s latest bit of recruiting magic culminates with today’s National Signing Day, a holiday in much of the country and a day that Meyer has not only owned from a publicity standpoint, but one that’s been a launching pad to his past successes. He’s undefeated one year into his Ohio State stint, the bowl ban is lifted and the Ohio State program is headed full-steam in Meyer’s intended direction.
A few really fast linebackers would help that direction. By all accounts, Mike Mitchell is 6-fot-4, 225 lbs, and really, really fast.
A fast-riser on the recruiting circuit who gave Meyer and the Buckeyes a verbal commitment in early January, Mitchell turned heads — and dropped some jaws — last summer when he went to a trumped-up, invite-only combine run by Nike last summer in Oregon called The Opening. There, he ran a 4.39 40-yard dash, posted a vertical jump of better than 40 inches and shattered the all-time record for what Nike calls a SPARQ (cumulative) score.
“He’d never really gone to these camps; maybe one locally,” his father said. “And truthfully, I think he went to that one mostly because he thought he’d be bored at home that week if he didn’t.”
Mitchell is listed by Scout.com as the nation’s 28th best overall prospect in the class of 2013, the highest ranking for a player committed before Wednesday to an Ohio State class that Scout.com came into National Signing Day ranking as the second-best nationally. Mitchell ranks No. 2 on Scout’s list of middle linebackers in this class.
He never played organized football until he was in eighth grade, his father said, and when he started to get away from being a full-time basketball player he did so as a wanna-be running back who played on the defensive line. He started to make a name for himself as a football player when he helped Prestonwood Christian in Plano win a state title as a sophomore in 2010, then he played the next year at Plano West. He went back to Prestonwood last spring and played his senior year there.
“I’ve been coaching high school football for 28 years, 22 of that at the Texas (highest) 5A level, and I’ve never coached one or coached against one with the type of ability Mike Mitchell has,” Prestonwood coach Chris Cunningham said.
Asked how he believed Mitchell’s talents would translate to the highest level of college football, Cunningham at first said he didn’t want to jump to conclusions. Then he said, “I’m glad I get the Big Ten Network. This is a pretty unique young man with many, many talents.”
Mike is the fifth of nine Mitchell children. He has older brothers and sisters who played basketball at various competitive levels and through college, and though Ken Mitchell said he’s seen rare athleticism from Mike since he was 10 or 11 years old chasing snakes in Florida and catching passes from his brothers, he’s hesitant to say he’s the best athlete of the bunch.
“I’ve got three more (sons) coming,” Ken Mitchell said, “and they’re all freaks.”
Mickey Mitchell, currently a sophomore at Prestonwood, is Scout.com’s fourth-rated basketball prospect in the class of 2015. He hears from Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta often, but Ken Mitchell said he doesn’t know if Mickey has a favorite at this point.
Though his recruiting took off in the back half of 2012, his father and his high school football coach think Mike Mitchell was at least leaning toward Ohio State all along.
The Mitchells lived in the Orlando, Fla., area until Mike finished ninth grade. That happened to coincide with Meyer’s success at Florida, and Ken Mitchell said he and his sons took notice.
“With Urban Meyer, the results pretty much speak for themselves,” Ken Mitchell said. “My sons and I watched the Gators win a lot of big games when (Meyer) was the coach there.”
In the actual recruitment, Meyer got help from an unexpected source. Ken Mitchell said letters from Ohio State kept ending up atop the pile in the family’s mailbox, and after this went on “for about two months,” one day Ken caught up to the neighborhood mailman and asked if it was coincidence.
“He’s an Ohio State grad,” Ken Mitchell said. “And he basically told me, yes, he’d been doing that intentionally.”
The letters kept coming, always atop a pile that kept growing after last summer. Calls and text messages kept coming, too. Ken Mitchell would come to look for Mike at night and find him on Skype, talking to Meyer.
Tom Herman, Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, is the Buckeyes primary recruiter in Texas. Co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, considered two of Ohio State’s best recruiters, were also heavily involved with Mike Mitchell’s recruitment. Meyer, Ken Mitchell said, handled the closing.
The Mitchells have a makeshift basketball court just inside the front door of their Plano home. Really. There are rims attached in opposite corners of what many would call a living room. The floor is hardwood. Adjacent staircases even provide a viewing area.
“(The Ohio State coaches) were here, and they were shooting hoops with the boys, and Vrabel made some sort of crazy bank shot that no one had made before,” Ken Mitchell said. “My kids went nuts. I think Mike (Mitchell) had his mind made up — and I know he did after he visited Columbus — but my sons remember Vrabel making that shot. Maybe that sealed the deal.”
Said Cunningham: “I know Mike had a lot of respect for Urban Meyer from having lived in Florida. In terms of the actual recruitment, it took him a while to actually get up there and visit Ohio State. (Fickell) and Vrabel were down here; he was talking to them all the time. I think a lot of his mind was made up before he actually visited.”
Recruiting can be a fickle thing, and it can be a Fickell thing. Sometimes, the mailman is on your side and sometimes he isn’t. Sometimes, Mike Vrabel shows up sporting his Super Bowl rings and ends up making a memorable shot on in your in-home basketball court. Sometimes, you take a position of both glaring need and opportunity — like linebacker at Ohio State — and you’re able to find a stud to fill it.
“I wasn’t very good in the NFL,” Ken Mitchell said. “And I can’t sit here and say Mike is ready to be All-Big Ten or anything like that, but I think he’s ready to work like he wants it. I know he can’t wait.”
Opportunity knocks, and National Signing Day brings hope that Mike Mitchell’s day to shine in Ohio Stadium is coming.
“I know he’ll jump right in on special teams,” Cunningham said. “I’ve never seen a kid cover kicks the way Mike does. He’s on the 30 getting an angle on the guy with the ball, and the rest of the team is still back at the 40.
“For a lot of kids, the transition to college ball is difficult. I’m not saying it will be easy for Mike, but with his speed, the game is not going to be too fast for him. He’s a very intelligent young man. I don’t know what will happen when he gets there, but I’m quite sure he’ll be impressive.”