'The Graduate' Ready To Help In Secondary

Junior safety Brandon Mitchell is one of those players that doesn't get a lot of attention, but could be one of the keys to Ohio State's season. We caught up with Mitchell for his thoughts on his role on the team, his thoughts on OSU legend Jack Tatum and more.

He already has the political science degree on his wall, but Brandon Mitchell wants everyone to remember he can play a little football as well.

The junior safety from Atlanta, Ga. has played in 22 games, with five starts, through his first two seasons at OSU and his best is yet to come.

There is a lot of talent at safety on the Buckeyes' roster. Nate Salley and Donte Whitner are the starters. Mitchell is the No. 3 safety, but more importantly, the nickelback. He is expected to see a lot of playing time this season.

But right now, Mitchell is just trying to get through the grind called camp.

"It's hard to be excited in camp right now – you know you've got those two-a-days next week," Mitchell said. "But I'm real excited for the first game and just the season in general. I feel very excited about the team and the talent we have and our opportunities this year."

Some of Mitchell's teammates have mentioned he could be in for a breakout year.

"I'd like to," Mitchell said. "The coaches have been telling me that I need to come in and create that spark. Obviously right now I'm the nickelback and when I come in it's usually pressure situations. Third-and-long, maybe second-and-long. And if I come in and create that spark, I'm sure I will make some plays that can turn some games around."

Mitchell is a team player. He knows he's behind Salley and Whitner on the depth chart, but has nothing but respect for both of them. What else would be expected from a guy who graduated in three years? (He begins graduate school this fall.)

"Well, I like to keep it a strong competition," Mitchell said. "I want to push those guys to both be All-Americans and if I do that, I feel my job is done. I may not be the starter, but I'll play a part in getting them to that point."

Mitchell was asked for his strengths as a defensive back.

"I think I'm one of the smarter players on the field," he said. "I try and analyze all the situations. I do have the physical tools, but I feel as though I use my mind a lot more than most players. So, I think that would be my strong point. Thinking through and knowing the coverages and knowing what the offenses are going to do."

Mitchell and his teammates are making it no secret that they are aiming for a national championship. Yes, that is the goal every year for every team, but the Buckeyes seem confident they can make a run.

"We definitely talk about that," Mitchell said. "We feel as though we need to keep that as a common goal. Everybody has to be focused on that common goal and the only way to do that is to constantly talk about it. Every time we break a huddle, we say, ‘Pasadena,' or ‘Rose Bowl,' or something of that nature, just to remind you of what your goal is. Obviously that starts with winning one game at a time starting with Miami, but the overall goal is to win a national championship. And I don't think we should be playing this game if you don't."

Mitchell is 6-3 and a bulked-up 215 pounds. Just another example of someone who came in, worked hard and reshaped his body. And he feels faster and quicker than ever.

"I was 178 when I came in," he said. "I've put on about 40, but I've gotten faster. I believe I got faster over these last couple of months with (speed coach) Butch Reynolds. He's really been a great addition to us. I've noticed a considerable difference in my explosion and my burst off the line just from him being here. It's a big difference and you can definitely tell.

"And I'm sure a lot of the bigger guys can tell because Butch is breaking down our running style and our running form and it's just pretty much changed how we do it. None of us really knew how to run. I mean, a couple guys – such as myself – ran track, but we didn't actually know how to run. And I think we're in much better shape coming in this year than any other year and I think that's all a part of Butch."

Reynolds brings instant credibility. The players have bought into everything he's teaching. And why not. Here's a guy who set the world record in the 400-yard dash (43.29 in 1988), won a gold medal at the '88 Olympics in Seoul in the 4x400 relay and won a silver medal at the '88 Olympics in the 400-yard dash.

"Oh definitely," Mitchell said. "A lot of guys might be resistant to some coaches, new coaches, but he showed us his goal medal. So, when you see that, it get everyone's attention. So, you just have to take a backseat to anything he says and follow right behind him because you know of those kind of accolades."

Mitchell wears the No. 32 at OSU. He's studied the history of Buckeye football and he knows the No. 32 will always be associated with his idol, Jack Tatum.

"Obviously those are hard footsteps to follow," Mitchell said. "He was actually in last week and watched our practice. I talked with him a little bit and just talked about some of the things that he did well and some of the things that helped him become a successful player. He's my favorite Buckeye, personally, because I've idolized him and I want to be one of the best at the position. So, Jack Tatum, he's amazing. I'm just glad I can carry on the legacy and hopefully one day my name will be mentioned along the likes of his."

Tatum was a three-year starting strong safety at OSU (1968-70). He was a two-time All-American and the National Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.

He was a first round draft pick by the Oakland Raiders and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection.

"The Assassin" will always be mentioned among the best hitters to ever play the game. And yes, the Buckeyes still pay homage to him each week during the season.

"We definitely will be doing the ‘Jack Tatum Hit of the Week' again this year," Mitchell said. "And I hope to get a couple."

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