Mitchell is finding success with Tennessee TechPublished 12:36pm Wednesday, November 23, 2011
When Caleb Mitchell signed with Tennessee Tech he admits he did not think the team was very good, but he saw potential for greatness.
During his freshman season Mitchell began strong, but injuries led to a medical redshirt.
Three years later Mitchell helped the Golden Eagles compile a 7-3 record overall and a 6-2 record in the Ohio Valley Conference. That helped Tennessee Tech finish in a three-way tie for the conference title.
It is the first conference title for Tennessee Tech since 1975.
“(Tennessee Tech) had a history of not winning. We were a rebuilding class,” Mitchell said. “Eventually my class and newer recruits came together.”
Thanks to head-to-head tiebreakers against Eastern Kentucky University and Jacksonville State University, the Golden Eagles earned the conference’s automatic berth in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The Golden Eagles will host Central Arkansas at 2 p.m. Saturday.
Mitchell, who said there was quite a bit of adjustment going from Russellville to Tennessee Tech, has enjoyed his experience.
“Russellville has great facilities,” Mitchell said. When I got here at Tech, the weight room was terrible. The roof leaked during rain and was smaller than Russellville’s.”
In addition to upgrading the roster, head coach Watson Brown also upgraded the facilities. The new improvements impressed Mitchell and have helped bring in better recruits.
“The new weight room is better than Alabama’s,” Mitchell said. “Ours is one of the top in the nation. It has helped a lot in recruiting.”
Of course, not everything was a step down when he made the transition. The speed of the game is different and the way coaches treat injured players is also different.
“It is a serious game. The coach’s job is on the line based on how we perform. You always have to be on your toes or somebody can come in and take your spot,” Mitchell said. “In high school your spot is there, you don’t have to worry about it. In college you have to fight for it back.”
Mitchell has had to deal with injuries during his time with the Golden Eagles, but each time he earns his playing time back. His freshman year he played in two games, recording eight tackles and returning a kickoff for a touchdown before a knee injury ended his season.
The next year he started 11 games at free safety, leading the team with three fumbles forced and two fumble recoveries. He finishing second on the team with 63 tackles and also recorded 4.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks and two interceptions.
In 2010 Mitchell missed four games due to injury, but recorded 31 total tackles. Against Eastern Illinois Mitchell had seven tackles, two interceptions — he returned one for a touchdown — and forced a fumble.
This season Mitchell has played in all 10 games, recording 23 total tackles and intercepting two passes as a cornerback.
He said he learned to play a new style of football at Tennessee Tech.
“They trained me to be a lot more physical in college than in high school,” Mitchell said. “I wish I had played that way in high school.”
When Mitchell was with Russellville, he earned an All-State honorable mention and was selected to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. He received offers from several schools, but does not regret signing with the Golden Eagles.
“If I did get to go to Alabama I would get to play the LSU’s week in and week out, but I wouldn’t have the chance to (get on the field),” Mitchell said. “Here I am getting to play against those top-notch guys.”
Tennessee Tech has not been afraid to play some of the bigger programs at the top level of college football. In 2008 Mitchell got to compete in the game against Louisville. In 2009 the Golden Eagles played Kansas State and Georgia. In 2010 Tennessee Tech opened the season with games at Arkansas and Texas Christian University. This year the team visited Iowa for the season opener.
Mitchell said his favorite memory in those games was at Arkansas.
“We were going to the locker room and they were saying, ‘We’re not going to take it easy on you Tech,’” Mitchell said. “We were beating them at the end of the first quarter.”
Although Arkansas went on to win the game 44-3, Mitchell learned he could compete with some of the best players in the nation. During the game against the Razorbacks, Mitchell was given the opportunity to defend wide receiver Greg Childs.
“He didn’t score,” Mitchell said. “He was big and tall and strong, but he wasn’t that fast.”
While Mitchell has one more year of eligibility remaining, he is already thinking about life after his playing days are over. He is majoring in sports administration with a concentration in coaching.
Mitchell does not know the exact path he will take when he graduates, but he knows he wants to help young people.
“I’m not sure if I want to be a high school coach and athletic director or go the college route,” Mitchell said. “I know I want to teach kids my age and younger. I want to give them somebody to look up to and give them life lessons.”