Healthy again, Mitchell excited about return
TAMPA -- Terrence Mitchell hasn't taken that first big hit yet, but for the first time in six months, the USF sophomore receiver is back on a football field, excited to return to the sport he loves after missing most of last season with concussion symptoms after a violent collision in a September win against UTEP.
"I'm just excited to be back out there. It's been a long six, seven months without football," Mitchell said last week as the Bulls opened a month of spring football drills. "It's just amazing to get back out there and be with my brothers and be able to play and run around with them."
Mitchell, one of the fastest but smallest players on the team at 5-foot-10 and 158 pounds, was injured making a tackle on a UTEP fake punt in the Bulls' fourth game of the season, a full-speed hit that sent him to the hospital and resulted in him missing the last eight games of the season and ultimately taking a medical redshirt. He's been symptom-free since the end of last year, and the best step in his recovery was returning to the practice field and the company of his teammates.
"I definitely appreciate football more. It can be taken away from you," said the former Hillsborough High standout. "I saw that in September, that it can be taken away from you quick. I appreciate every moment being out there now."
Mitchell played cornerback the first part of his freshman year in 2010, then shifted to receiver, learning the position over the next year and catching seven passes for 60 yards in the first four games last season. Despite a reputation as a fearsome hitter in high school, he's embraced his role in USF's offense, where his speed could give the Bulls a big-play factor that was missing much of last season. His background on defense has helped him in knowing what the opposing players covering him are likely to do.
"I feel very at home ," said Mitchell, a Freshman All-America as a punt returner in 2010. "Especially switching from corner, it's not as hard as some pure receivers that have to learn how to read coverages. I go out there and see the safety's this far off the hash, I know it's Cover 2."
Having Mitchell back around the team is a welcome sight for his teammates and coaches, who weren't sure that would happen at first when he was laying motionless on the field at Raymond James Stadium after a frightening collision.
"Every once in a while in your coaching career, you see things and you kind of shudder," offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. "We were in the (press) box, obviously, and we could hear it in the box. It was a little scary. You think of it as if it's your son. That's your reaction. They're kind of your kids, you're around them so often. The concern for him was the first thing."
Fitch has moved Mitchell from being an outside receiver inside to the slot, where his time working as a receiver has made him a more refined route runner, combining his natural speed with more polished technique. If there's any tentative nature to Mitchell after last year's injury, Fitch hasn't seen it yet.
"I don't know if he has that gene to slow down. It's who he is," Fitch said. "We certainly don't want him to lose it, but we have to be smart with him too, and keep him healthy. ... He's going to play one speed. He's going to play 100 miles per hour. It's kind of hard when you're (joking about his weight) a buck-thirty-seven."
Mitchell said he wanted to return late last season, knowing he could help the Bulls as they struggled to a 1-6 Big East record and missed a bowl game for the first time since 2005. But Skip Holtz told him he was taking a medical redshirt, something he accepted, knowing it was for his own best interests, and would give him a second chance at his second season with the Bulls.
"He sat me down, and said 'We're more concerned about your safety.' I was like 'Yes, sir.' I redshirted," Mitchell said. "You want to go help. That's the competitor in you. You have to listen to the head man sometimes. Everybody's got a boss."