With a famous father and big-time coverage skills, Arkansas cornerback Tevin Mitchel did not lack confidence going into his freshman season.
But at 168 pounds, the son of former Oklahoma quarterback and New England Patriot Eric Mitchel, wasn't exactly equipped to be as physical as a defensive back needs to be in the SEC.
"I have always had the mentality that I can play at this level," Mitchel said. "You can do anything that you put your mind to. Looking up to my dad and him playing in the Big 12 at OU and the NFL, he was able to teach me a lot.
"But the thing I did find out last year was that size matters," Mitchel said. "I have been working all off season to get bigger and get faster and stronger to be ready for next season."
Although he is listed at 192 pounds, Mitchel said he is really 180 pounds. But that 180 is much more muscular than it was last season.
"I really hit the weight room and did everything I can so there will be no way that someone can push me around this season," Mitchel said. "I am bigger, stronger and faster this season."
It's not as if Mitchel had a bad season. In fact, he actually led the cornerbacks in tackles with 56 while playing in all 13 games and starting seven.
Compare that with the totals of the upperclassman - seniors Isaac Madison and Greg Gatson both had 29 and junior Darius Winston finished with 18.
Although new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes was only here to coach Mitchel one game, he was impressed with what he found.
"The thing I liked about him the most was his preparation," Haynes said. "I think he did a great job of preparing as a young kid when you don't see that sometimes. He was a kid that really does a good job of studying the game, asking questions - asking the right questions, good questions - and it paid off for him because he played very well."
Mitchel, who was born in Arkansas before moving to Texas before high school, started those seven games initially because of injuries to the upperclassmen.
"I think the experience helped him tremendously," Haynes said. "He was thrown into the fire and as a freshman, you really don't expect a whole lot of them, so what you get is kind of always extra. When you get a freshman who can go out there and be productive for you, it's always good. The experience of being out there with that crowd and those environments that he played in will only help him in the future. I think that's where he has so much confidence right now."
Mitchel, whose mom did not allow him to play football until high school, played in the U.S. Army All-American game and was ranked as the 26th-best cornerback in the country by Scout.com.
He originally committed to Nebraska before flipping to Arkansas in December after also having offers from Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and others.
"I just knew this was the place that I wanted to be and I felt like I would be more comfortable at Arkansas," Mitchel said. "I knew from the time I stepped on campus that I made the right choice."
It helped that those older cornerbacks - especially Winston - tried to help Mitchel learn instead of guarding against their own playing time.
"Darius has a lot more experience than I have and it has been helpful for me," Mitchel said. "He always tells me what to look for and what not to look for. He helps me a lot. Actually he was the first guy that came to me when I first got here. He has been around and he was able to teach me and help me keep my head up. He and the others were so great to me and I can never thank them enough.
Mitchel and Winston are the likely starters at cornerback and Eric Bennett and Ross Ranser at safety in a secondary that lost starters Tramain Thomas and the older cornerbacks.
"Losing Tramain and Isaac and Greg, they were all like big brothers to me so it is crazy to see them leave after one year," Mitchel said. "Our secondary is young except for Darius, but I think me and Darius are handling it well and we are going to step up and do our job."
The young cornerbacks include redshirt freshmen Kelvin Fisher (5-11, 190) and Davyon McKinney (6-3, 190) as well as walk-on Kaelon Kellybrew (5-10, 174), who was a spring sensation with his play in the scrimmages.
"We have got some great young cornerbacks in Davyon McKinney and Kelvin Fisher," Mitchel said. "I think you are going to see that be a strength for us this season instead of a question mark."
Mitchel was slowed with a hamstring pull suffered in the spring and that allowed Kellybrew to get more time.
"With the hamstring injury, I thought I did decent," Mitchel said. "I thought I could have done more than I did, but I didn't want to risk it."
Kellybrew is a 22-year old senior who played his first three years at Mississippi Valley State before transferring to Arkansas and redshirting last season.
"We watch Kellybrew practice every day and we knew he was a good corner," Mitchel added. "Actually before he made the interception in the spring game, I told him to go out and get me one. He went out there and did it. That's what we need, guys like him to back me and Darius up because you never know what can happen - like what happen against A&M when I had to step in."
It was Arkansas' win over Texas A&M in Cowboys Stadium in October in which Mitchel notched a career-high 11 tackles.
"I just prepared and came out and played," Mitchel said. "That's the thing up here - you prepare before the play to be in position to make the play after the whistle blows."
Haynes worked all of his cornerbacks and safeties on both the right side and left side of the field this spring instead of slotting them into just field and boundary corners and free and strong safety.
"It's a big thing for me as far as teaching," Haynes said. "When you are sitting in the meeting room, I think you listen a little closer if you are going to have to play both sides on the field.
"That's what I want," Haynes added. "I've always done it that way. It creates depth. If you are just going to play free, then that's what you learn and then if you need a strong, you may not be able to put in the third best player.
"Same thing with corner," Haynes continued. "I want them to play right and left this spring and that way they will have to learn both boundary and field. They are going to get a feel for both by playing right and left."
Haynes knows that the safeties had eight picks and the corners only two last season, said that he has one true goal with the secondary.
"I think that helps you find the best four guys to put on the field and then it really sets your depth," Haynes said. "When someone goes down, they all know both positions and you can put the next best player on the field."
Mitchel said that he loves what Haynes - who replaced former defensive coordinator Willy Robinson before the Cotton Bowl - has brought to the table.
"I thought he came in and did extremely well as DC, came in and did a great job and we enjoyed his coaching style," Mitchel said. "He is very active out there and will chase you down to praise you or get on you if you make a mistake. He holds us accountable."
Arkansas' players watched as head coach Bobby Petrino was ousted in the spring, something that Mitchel says will not cause as many problems with this team as the fans might think.
"As a team you have to look over all that stuff that happened with Petrino," Mitchel said. "This is a business and things like that will happen and you have to be mature about it. You don't worry about him, you worry about the team. We are all trying to stick together and we are going to stick together."
He was replaced - at least for this season - by assistant John L. Smith, who was actually the lead recruiter for Arkansas in landing Mitchel.
"I'm excited with Coach Smith coming in because he is actually the guy that recruited me and got me wanting to come to Arkansas," Mitchel said. "The whole team is excited about him. We are going to show the fans that it is about the players on this team, not about Petrino."
Mitchel Confident in Talents
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