Kyle Mitchum loves football so much that he finds it difficult to list any other hobbies. When pressed on it, he goes with weightlifting.
The offensive lineman from Erie, Pa., dreams of someday transforming his 6-foot-5, 270-pound frame into one able to play in the NFL. He really admires those players that have parlayed college success into professional careers.
Mitchum ranks all those impressive athletes behind his hero, however. His guiding light might not be able to pick off a blitzing linebacker, but she sure as heck exudes determination and strength.
"My mom is my life," Mitchum said. "She raised me and my brother ever since we were babies. She means the world to us, and we definitely look up to her. She's real strong with everything."
Darcy Cross' strength as a single parent shines through in her son Kyle and her oldest son, Dan Baker. They are ambitious, driven half-brothers who received the proper upbringing.
Dan, 20, is pursuing a degree from a Pennsylvania technical school. Kyle is emerging as one of the most sought-after prep lineman in the country.
TheInsiders.com ranks Mitchum as the fourth best high school offensive frontman in the nation's senior class. Iowa stands among a throng of college football programs looking to secure a commitment from the McDowell Senior High star.
The Hawkeyes received Mitchum's first official visit. He was hosted by a familiar face in Iowa wide receiver Ed Hinkel, also an Erie native. Bob Sanders and Jovon Johnson also hail from the Northwestern Pennsylvania blue-collar town.
"It was great," Mitchum said after watching Iowa defeat Penn State on Oct. 24. "Coach (Kirk) Ferentz, Coach (Ken) O'Keefe, everybody out there just took care of me. It was just a great time."
Scouting reports have classified Mitchum as a very athletic lineman with a lot of room to grow. He earned all-conference honors as a junior on the offensive and defensive lines, but projects to the offensive side of the ball in college.
At press time, Mitchum had set official visits to Wisconsin (Dec. 5) and Tennessee (Dec. 12). The lineman also planned to make a trip to Ohio State. He said that his fifth official visit would come from a group of schools that included Michigan, Virginia, West Virginia, Boston College and Miami of Florida.
Mitchum took unofficial visits to many of the schools on his list this past summer, including Iowa and Wisconsin. He anticipated making all of his official visits and having a decision in late December or early January.
"All of the schools that I talk about or I visit, I've seen facilities and academic questions have all been answered," he said. "For the decision, it's mostly how I feel gut-feeling wise. How I feel there and what I feel right about. Can I see myself living there for five years? How I feel with the coaches? Can I play for them?"
Mitchum believed that Ferentz passed his test. The Iowa head coach spent 15 years as an offensive line coach in the NFL and college. Three Hawkeyes were drafted by the NFL last March, including two -- Eric Steinbach and Bruce Nelson -- in the second round.
"Knowing that Coach Ferentz was an offensive line coach, that's definitely a plus," Mitchum said. "He knows what's really going on with the offensive linemen. It's another major thing that I like about Iowa."
Ferentz's ability to prepare linemen for the next level also ranks high on the recruit's list.
"I definitely want to play in the NFL," Mitchum said. "I know that if I go to Iowa that there's definitely a possibility that I'll be able to play at the next level for sure."
Football rose to the top of Mitchum's athletic priority list at an early age. He dabbled in baseball until middle school, but the gridiron became his one and only pursuit from that point forward.
Mitchum has always stood out in a crowd because he was bigger than everybody else. When a friend asked him to try football in the sixth grade, he gave it a shot.
"Ever since then, I just really fell in love with the sport," Mitchum said. "I play with heart and it's something that I really like to do now."
You don't have to be a historian of the sport to know how much it means to the people of Pennsylvania. Tom Cruise and Craig T. Nelson did not do the state justice in "All the Right Moves."
The rugged game of football perhaps best represents the gritty people that have logged many hours in factories across the Keystone State. On Friday nights, they relax with the game played at maybe its purest level.
Mitchum said that 8,000 people might come out to watch the big games. Erie has eight different high schools of which McDowell plays four.
"At our field, it's always packed," Mitchum said. "The fans are crazy. The students come out and watch. The adults come out and watch. It's an event. It's really like everybody in town and everybody around here thinks football."
Mitchum's brother and uncles played football, but he is the first to take it this seriously. With the exception of a little hunting and fishing, all the offensive lineman thinks about is his schoolwork and the gridiron.
"I hang out with the guys on the team," Mitchum said. "If anything, we just got out and eat and watch more football. We're always kind of around it."
Hinkel, Sanders and Johnson all can relate to that way of life. Mitchum knew Hinkel from Erie and the two players are acquaintances. But although there is that connection, Mitchum does not see the success of Erie players in Iowa City as reason alone for him to continue the pipeline.
"This is my decision," he said. "That's great that there are Erie people out there. But if they weren't out there, and I still wanted to go to Iowa, I'd still go."
Mitchum thinks it's cool that Iowa's Mike Jones is starting on the offensive line in his first season on campus this fall, but the prep senior is not hung up on following in his footsteps.
"I'll do whatever the coaches want me to do," Mitchum said. "If I have to play early, that's great. But if I don't and get red shirted, that's fine with me. If I get red shirted, that will just give me another year to get stronger and learn everything."
A redshirt year also would give Mitchum a chance to settle into college academically. He said he has achieved a 2.8 GPA so far in his senior year and looks seriously upon his schoolwork.
"Academics are real important because football isn't going to last forever," Mitchum said. "You definitely need something to fall back on. Academics is that thing."
That must ring like music to Darcy Cross' ears. The single mom, who works for a financial advising company, is doing what she can to guide her son while allowing him to make the most important decision of his young life.
"She's actually been sitting back and letting me do my thing," Mitchum said. "She supports my decisions."
Cross had to learn how to miss her son while he was away at numerous football camps. She now has come to grips with the possibility of seeing her son move to a different part of the country.
"At first when this college stuff started happening, she really wanted me to stay home," Mitchum said. "Now that she has had a chance to go out to places like Iowa, and she sees what these places have to offer, distance isn't a factor anymore. She knows that I can always get home."
And home and his hero will be in Mitchum's heart wherever football might take him.
Iowa is in the running for prep all-American offensive lineman Kyle Mitchum from McDowell High Erie, Pa. The Hawkeyes have done well in that city with three current starters calling it home. Here they are:
Bob Sanders, 5-8, 202, Sr., SS, Cathedral Prep
Ed Hinkel, 6-1, 188, So., WR, Cathedral Prep
Jovon Johnson, 5-9, 175, So., CB, Mercyhurst Prep
KYLE MITCHUM UP CLOSE
Name: Kyle Mitchum
Position: OL, DL
TheInsiders.com National Position Rank: 4
High School: McDowell HS (Erie, Pa.)
Favorite schools: Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
Quotable: "Knowing that Coach Ferentz was an offensive line coach, that's definitely a plus. He knows what's really going on with the offensive linemen. It's another major thing that I like about Iowa."
This story appeared in the December issue of Hawkeye Nation magazine and is indicative of the feature articles that we publish each and every month. The Internet side of our reporting is more of the day to day grind of the recruiting beat, and due to the hectic nature of the recruiting process, our time to tell in-depth and revealing stories is limited, though we do make every effort to do that when time permits. If you are interested in a subscription to Hawkeye Nation, click on the magazine cover in the upper left hand portion of this page.
Photo used with permission, Times Publishing Company, Erie, PA