Unlike many Bearcat fans I had the pleasure of watching Mike Mickens play during his prep career. As the broadcast voice of Warriors football games during Mike's junior and senior seasons, I watched as the skinny kid we all called "Mick" would line up at safety and knock heads with anyone who crossed his path.
The kid with questionable hands knew how to cover, hit and use his great speed on the field and track, but those in the recruiting business as well as college coaches didn't foresee his future success.
Watching as the recruiting process went gang-busters for his wide receiver teammate Greg Orton (Purdue), all Mick could pull in was an offer from Bowling Green with pressure to make a verbal commitment during and right after he'd left his official visit.
Mickens issued that verbal pledge and if not for his high school Coach Jay Minton and some ties to former Bearcats head coach Mark Dantonio, Bearcat fans would have one less All-American on its all-time roster.
Dantonio had coached another former Wayne defensive back in Will Allen during his time at Ohio State and had made contact with the Warriors head coach about his skinny defensive back.
As programs like West Virginia and Ohio State passed on Mickens, the Bearcats new coaching staff saw something they liked and Dantonio and Coach Barnett felt they got the steal of the recruiting class on signing day.
We now all know what has happened the past three seasons as Mickens has blossomed into one of the elite players in college football with a chance to be a two-time All-American.
It's hard to believe it's now the start of Mike's final season wearing the Red & Black and I've been privileged to see his career up close just like I'd done his high school career.
While many expect this to be an exciting season for Bearcats football, it's also a bittersweet one as many of the kids I first covered when I started BearcatInsider.com are now preparing for their last.
While all of them are special to me, Mike is the one I've known longer than all the others.
I've watched with joy as the kid many didn't even have ranked as one of the top 100 players in Ohio his senior season, has blossomed into an All-American and possible future NFL player.
I spoke with Mike after practice at Camp Higher Ground as he reflected on how quick his time as a Bearcat seems to have flashed in front of him. Here is my Q & A with senior All-American Mike Mickens.
Q: We're out here in the heat at Camp Higher Ground again?
A: Yeah, It was a hot one, but we've done a lot of conditioning and this will help us when it comes time for the games.
Q: It seems like only yesterday you made your first trip to Camp Higher Ground as a freshman not knowing what to expect and now it's almost over with. Have you looked back this week?
A: Time has gone by fast. I can't believe I'm already a senior but I'm going to try and enjoy every day of this camp.
Q: How hard is it to be a senior knowing this is it? While you're looking forward to the season is there a time or mind frame that you've now got to pace yourself as the season approaches?
A: I'm just enjoying everyday. You don't know what is going to happen tomorrow so you just take each day and put in the work needed to be one of the best.
Q: In talking with several people we looked at this defensive backfield with DeAngelo and yourself as one of the best in the country especially when you look at the play of Brandon Underwood and Cedric Tolbert. How good do you feel the Bearcats defensive backfield can be?
A: I feel we are the best in the country and we're going to show people this season how good we are.
Q: This is year two with Coach Kelly. You've had two springs and one season in this scheme. Now that you know what to expect is it any easier?
A: We know out here we've got to live up to his standards and if he feels your not getting it done he's going to let us know. Each day he challenges you to be your best so you want to come out and work.
Q: It's always a joy to watch you and Goody (Dominick Goodman)battle in practice. Does going against him help you get ready for each game? And has he helped you become a better player?
A: I feel he's the best receiver out there and one of the best in the game. Goody is a great receiver and he tests you every day. He likes to compete and win so if you don't come ready he's going to take it to you. I know he's one of the best I've gone against since coming to college and I'm glad he's on my team.
Q: With the success you and DeAngelo have enjoyed the past couple of seasons, how much help have the guys you've had up front been to your success?
A: They've meant a lot to us. We've had guys like Hoke and Craig get great pressure from the ends and with guys like Byrd and Hoppel able to apply the type of pressure they do up the middle, it gives us the chance to really make some plays. This year we've got Byrd and Hoppel back plus some new guys and our defensive ends may not have the type of experience we've had in the past but Connor and Lamonte are going to get the job done and once they get it going I feel we'll be in great shape again this season.
Q: You came to Cincinnati with Cedric Tolbert who you played against in high school. You've now been teammates for four years. Is there still a rivalry between you two when it comes time to talk Wayne and Xenia?
A: I've played against Cedric since seventh grade and now we're on the same team and I'm happy to have him on my team and not against me anymore.
Q & A All-American Mike Mickens
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