The chance of a lifetime

LOGAN, Utah – With two minutes and 10 seconds left in the third quarter, the situation looked bleak for the Utah State Aggies against the Idaho Vandals. The crowd of 10,154 fans at Romney Stadium was noticeably on edge, as Idaho kicker Tino Amancio had just given the visitors a 17-14 lead with the fourth quarter fast approaching. For the Aggies, who had started off the 2008 season with three-straight losses, the possibility of falling further behind the eight ball must have looked increasingly realistic.Then something happened.Spurred by the resilient play of a young offense and tenacious defense, the Aggies erupted to score 28 unanswered points, closing the door on the Vandals and winning the game 42-17 in resounding fashion.At the center of the comeback stood Jeremy Mitchell, a former high school basketball player and junior college transfer who just four short years earlier had never even considered playing college football.”Coming out of high school I was more of a basketball person and I really didn’t even think about playing football until one of my friends back home said I should play some football,” recalls Mitchell, who grew up in Benicia, Calif.He adds, “I started playing just to have fun and eventually I ended up earning a scholarship here.”Mitchell’s long road to Logan would come full circle on September 20th, 2008, when the massive 6-foot-5 tight end hauled in a 15-yard pass from quarterback Diondre Borel just before the end of the third quarter to help the Aggies retake the lead against Idaho. It was a lead the Aggies would only build on and a score which Mitchell counts as the greatest highlight in his Aggie football career up to this point.”It was an awesome feeling,” Mitchell says with a grin. “Anytime you score a touchdown it is a good feeling, but that was a home game and it gave us the lead. We didn’t lose that lead and it was amazing. There was no other feeling like it in the world.”If he comes across as overly excited at scoring his first and so far only collegiate touchdown, perhaps it is because Mitchell knows just how much work went into getting him to that point. Unlike many of Utah State’s current players, Mitchell did not receive a scholarship to play football after high school and instead was forced to go the junior college route after graduating from Benicia High School.Unwilling to let his dream of playing Division I college football slip away just because he didn’t receive a scholarship offer, Mitchell enrolled at Laney Junior College, where he helped lead the team to a conference championship as a sophomore. It was there that he caught the eye of the Utah State coaching staff and was finally given the opportunity he had always promised himself that he would take advantage of.”Everybody says Division I football is what you want and you don’t want anything else,” explains Mitchell, who signed with the Aggies prior to the 2008 season.”Division II is cool and everything and so is Division I-AA, but it was my goal to play Division I football and my mindset was that the first school that offers me I was signing, and luckily Utah State came around one day and I signed right then and there,” Mitchell said.His impact during the 2008 season was immediate. A determined blocker, Mitchell saw action in eleven games for the Aggies last season, making five starts while also hauling in six catches. Expected to be one of the team’s impact players for 2009, Mitchell was named second-team all-WAC by Athlon Sports prior to the start of the season.Yet injuries have been a constant concern and stifled his production through September. But while Mitchell may have been slowed through the first three games of the 2009 season, the senior is finally back to form and now looks poised to claim his spot as one of the WAC’s best tight ends. His return couldn’t come at a better time of the year, as offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin says that the 6-foot-5 tight end has the potential to help the team improve dramatically as the Aggies begin the second half of the season. Baldwin credits Mitchell’s versatility with allowing him to employ different formations in Utah State’s offensive scheme.”He gives us a big target at tight end, and he is the best blocking tight end we have. So with all of our multiple formations it is nice to have a tight end who can come in and block and win at the point of attack,” Baldwin says.Baldwin also credits Mitchell with being one of the leaders on Utah State’s offense, and says that despite those early-season injuries, the senior has been influential in helping Utah State’s other tight ends learn and excel on the field.”Jeremy is definitely mature and that has helped a lot, because we haven’t had a lot of tight ends who have played at this level,” explains Baldwin. “His experience has helped us. When fellow USU tight end Kellen Bartlett was playing and Jeremy wasn’t because he was injured, Jeremy was helping Kellen mentally and telling him what he was supposed to do.”That Mitchell could come in from junior college and take on such a role speaks all the more to his maturity, says Baldwin, who has seen more than his fair share of former junior college players fail to make an impact after dreaming of playing at the Division I level.”When you’re in a junior college and you come to Division I, it is a completely different step,” Baldwin says. “To make it he has shown maturity and he shown a definite work ethic that is supreme, because a lot of junior college guys can’t make it at the Division I level. They don’t have the work ethic or they don’t have the determination and that’s why he’s still here playing with us.”As far as his future is concerned, Mitchell says he hopes to take his game to the next level, although he knows he has work to do. Currently an interdisciplinary studies major, he is also considering a career in law enforcement and says that wherever the future takes him he has learned to trust that things will work out for the best.”Being a police officer is still in the back of my mind and I’d be a pretty intimidating police officer I think. The future is untold, but God has a plan for us all.” -USU-

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