Mitchell preparing for another banner year

Oklahoma senior linebacker Lance Mitchell talks with about fellow linebackers Teddy Lehman and Pasha Jackson, the Butkus Award and the Sooners' defense in 2003. (AP Photo/Donna McWilliam)

NORMAN, Okla. — Senior Lance Mitchell is ranked as one of the top linebackers in the country and will be a contender for the Butkus Award, given annually to the top linebacker in the country. Recently, after a hard morning workout, Mitchell was kind of enough to stop and chat with me about summer workouts and the season ahead.

JH: How are workouts going at this time?

LM: "Great, they really couldn't be going any better. Coach (Jerry) Schmidt and his staff are really pushing us and we are working hard. We are getting after it and it is obvious to me that we want another national championship. We only lost twice last year, but those two losses stick to us, because we know we are better than that. Every player on our team seems to be giving everything they have during workouts trying to become a better player."

JH: Have you set some personal goals for this summer?

LM: "Just to become a better football player and a better person. I think you can always grow as person, and maybe that is easier than growing as a football player. Football requires you to be physical in someway, while personally you are working to just to be nicer, more sincere and more helpful and to be a better man.

"I will probably go into camp a little over 250 pounds, because I will lost some weight during double sessions. I hope to play at 248 or around there and be much stronger and quicker when the season starts. I am on target to do that, and if I just pay attention to what Coach Schmidt and his staff tells me to do then I will be exactly where I need to be when training camp starts. As a person, I will always have some work to do, but I am always determined to get better."

JH: You are ranked in the preseason polls as one of the top linebackers in the country ,and the Sooners are ranked as one of the top teams in the country. That has to make you feel pretty good about the upcoming season doesn't it?

LM: "I am honest when I say I don't know how I am rated or where we are rated as a team, because I don't buy the preseason magazines. If I see one lying around I will pick it up and look at it, but I never read it cover-to-cover. I really can't speak for me, but I am not surprised that Teddy (Lehman), Tommie (Harris), Pasha (Jackson) 'JJ' (Jonathan Jackson), Brandon (Everage) or really any of our guys are ranked very high. I expect our football team, as a whole, to be ranked very high. That is one of the big reasons why we all came to Oklahoma. The higher we are ranked the better chance we have to play for a national championship, so I guess we have to start somewhere."

JH: You will have a chance for a number of post season awards, but you will be competing with Teddy Lehman for most of them. What do you think about that?

LM: "Teddy should win them all, because he is the best linebacker in the country. I am glad to play alongside of him and that goes for Pasha as well. I think Pasha is as good as any linebacker in the country. I think I am a good player, and it is up to everybody else to say how good, but if you want my vote then Teddy has it and that goes for Pasha as well."

JH: Do you agree with those who feel OU has the best linebacker corp in the country?

LM: "Yes I do, but we can be even better. We can call be bigger, stronger and faster. We can all know our positions better and we can all learn more about football."

JH: What do you like about playing linebacker?

LM: "I think that you have to be a complete football player to play linebacker today. We have to be able to be strong enough and tough enough to stuff the run and take on 300 pound offensive linemen, but at the same time we have to be skilled enough to play in space and make plays in the passing game. Just try tackling ‘Q' and tell me you don't need to be skilled to play linebacker.

"I also think linebacker is a thinking man's position. You can't be dumb and play linebacker when you consider all the things an offense is trying to do to you and confuse you on each play. You have to be disciplined to play linebacker, but you can be aggressive as well. I find the position very challenging."

JH: Coach (Brent) Venables says you are a very instinctive player. Would you agree with that?

LM: "Yes, I think I play with a certain instinct and feel for the position. I think to be good in any sport you have to have some kind of feel for it or an instinct for if. If you have to think through things all the time you are going to be slow and the game is going to be too fast for you. The quicker you can recognize things the better linebacker you will be."

JH: Has OU been everything that you thought it would be?

LM: "Yes, and much more. I am lucky to have a great friend like Pasha to share my college experience with, and we have made many more friends here at OU. The students that we have met have been great with us and made us feel like normal students. The academics at OU are first rate and the academic support group is good for us. Coach Venables shot me straight when he told me what football was like at OU and it has turned out be just like he said. The fans are great every game. We play in a big game it seems every week and we have a chance to experience college football at its finest, and that is something that every play dreams about."

JH: How good can this defense be?

LM: "Real good. We can be the best defense in the country if we will play up to all of our capabilities. We don't have a weak spot on our defense, but we still have to play as whole or we will play bad like we did against Texas A&M and Oklahoma State last year. In those games, we had breakdowns that beat us, but in games like Washington State we played great and shut them down. We can be the best defense in the country if we want to be. And I think we do."

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