Remember the Titans: Terrance Mitchell never forgets where he came from, or where he wants to go

terrancemitchellgoducksTerrance 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. ( 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.