Braylon Mitchell wanted to gain weight, but the Arkansas strength and conditioning staff wants to make sure it's only the kind of weight that will enhance the true freshman linebacker's natural advantage, his explosive speed.
The Heber Springs product has learned a new diet, courtesy of nutrition specialist Kurt Schmidt, Jason Veltkamp's highly regarded No. 2 man on the UA strength and conditioning staff.
"I'm at 225, 230 right now and that's up 15 to 20 from when I got here," said the 6-3 Mitchell.
"The biggest thing, I didn't want to lose any speed. In the SEC, it's all about speed. If you gain weight and lose speed, you aren't helping yourself. So far, it's been perfect weight to keep me fast."
Mitchell is one of the stars of the redshirt program at Arkansas. He's a leader and one of the examples of how to do it right. The true freshman leads by example in Veltkamp's four-day program designed for the redshirts.
"You see a highly motivated player like Braylon, you know you are going to get a special player," Schmidt said. "He does exactly what you tell him in nutrition and in our weight room. He's going to be first in here each day."
Mitchell said he's early, but not any earlier than Luke Charpentier. He said he developed a bond with the big offensive lineman in the summer.
"We make sure we aren't late," Mitchell said. "You want to be early around here. You learn real quick there is regular time, then there is Coach (Bobby) Petrino time. So Luke and I decided we would make sure each other get up. We both set our clock and we wake up, we call each other to make sure the other one is up."
Mitchell was a little surprised to find himself on the redshirt list and the scout team. He thought he was going to play as a true freshman because of the need at middle linebacker. He was in the rotation early in camp, but accepted the redshirt plan when he slipped out of the two deep.
"I was just undersized," he said. "I found out pretty quickly that you better be a man to play at middle linebacker. I needed the weight room to play middle linebacker in the SEC. College is a bit more than I thought it would be. There are lots of challenges. It's a lot as far as football and academics together. Redshirt is the right thing.
"I thought it would be boring to redshirt, but it hasn't turned out that way. It's actually been fun. You get a chance to sit back in practice and learn and then there is extra time for the weight program. It's worked out about right for me. You don't think that when you come in, but you learn it's needed."
That's not to say he's not challenged on the scout team, too.
"You get a chance to learn in some aspects, but there are some areas that it's just a battle on every play," he said. "As a middle linebacker, you are going to see the fullback on every play. That means a collision with Van Stumon, play after play. It's big-time contact. Stumon is a load. I'm probably giving up 20 to 30 pounds in that collision. Stumon is rock solid, too."
That's the reason he's concentrating on his extra nutritional shakes and the right diet.
"Coach Schmidt has really helped me," Mitchell said. "I had to change my diet. No more fried foods. Lots and lots of vegetables. I didn't even know I liked broccoli. There are a lot of vegetables that I like that I didn't know about. That and fruits are the real things that you try to add.
"I gave up fried chicken. It's baked now. I've probably eaten more pasta than you can imagine. Lots more of the right kind of calories. They are healthy calories."
Schmidt laughs about that. The nutritional challenge is wiping the fried foods off the diets of freshman footballers.
"We are in the South, right?" he said. "That's the tough part, getting them to stop eating the fried foods. It makes a difference."
It wasn't hard with Mitchell.
"He does it the way you tell him, every time," Schmidt said. "I mean his diet, his work ethic in the weight room and everything he does. He's a good-looking player who does it right. He pays attention to every detail you give him."
Mitchell said it's just a matter of wanting to be your best.
"I want that for me, for all of my teammates," he said. "I want to be a leader. I don't want us to cheat ourselves.
"It's a family unit. It's the way I was raised, don't do anything to hurt the family. That's first and foremost.
"We want to get better. We want to have a team that is as good as possible. We have to put in the work to get there.
"I wasn't thrilled about all of this at first. I was the starting tailback in high school. We all come from good programs and were the best of the best in high school. So it's a shock to find yourself on the scout team. But it's a necessary part of the team. We understand the importance of team.
"The team suffered a loss against Alabama and the scout team didn't feel we had done everything we could to prepare the team. Our starters depend on us to give them the best look possible.
"So we've worked hard to get better at delivering the best picture in practice of the team we are playing. I think we've improved in that area. We know our role. That was a humbling experience and we aren't going to let that happen again. We want to have a great season and do our best to help the starters.
"At the same time, we want to prepare our bodies for something great in the future, too."
Braylon Mitchell said it takes a man to play middle linebacker in the SEC.
Photos by Marc F. Henning, Hawgs Illustrated
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