The first hint of Blake Mitchell's potential came early last spring when he received an invitation to participate in the Elite Eleven Quarterbacks Camp in California prior to his senior season. It was there that he caught the eye of coaches everywhere around the country ... and for good reason.
We began by asking Blake how long he started at LaGrange and what was his overall record?
"I started as a freshman ... every game except the very first game of my freshman season," said Mitchell. "I think I went something like 39-10 over four years ... but there were eight losses the first year, 11 wins, then 14 wins then 12 wins my senior season."
Blake was 37-2 his last three years.
We had the chance to speak with Mitchell's high school football coach in the process, and his tone of voice and enthusiasm spoke volumes about his pupil's ability and his strengths as a quarterback.
"He has a really good understanding of the game of football and I don't think that can be taken lightly," started Pardue.
"He loves to throw the football. He is coming in every morning working out and throwing the football. He just loves to play the game ... he's always won a bunch of games for us. He's always been a winner."
With so many questions about the young quarterback's size and strength, we decided to ask ...
"I'm 6-4 180, I bench 235 and have a verticle leap of 28.5 inches. And I can only throw the ball about 60 yards downfield ... but I can play the game," Blake assured us. "Oh yeah, and I only run a 4.78 forty."
"I'm hitting the weights hard now. They are sending me the workout program for their signees this week and as soon as I get that I'll hit that program."
Steve Pardue added, "He is deceptively strong. He is a thin kid right now but he'll put on weight as he matures. He's always been a pretty strong player and very durable."
Our attention then turned to the recruiting process from his early commitment, to his mid January waiver, then then back to his signing. We wanted to know what he liked that made him want to commit so early and walk away from so many other offers. Mitchell, as soft spoken and quiet as any prospect we have ever interviewed replied.
"I felt I could come in and play early ... plus I liked the coaching staff and all the players. I visited in September, the weekend they played Georgia. I committed two weeks after that. I really liked hanging out with the guys at SC. Plus they have great fan support and facilities. And I liked Coach (Lou) Holtz a lot. He's a good guy."
Coach Pardue remembered it this way.
"He committed about half way through our season last year. He's not one of these guys that really got into the recruiting process a whole lot. He went up there and fell in love with the place. He felt he could go in there and play early. When he came back from his visit up there he talked to his Mom and Dad and wanted to commit right then but we made him wait a week or two. It was a family decision and everyone needed to make sure it was what they wanted to do because it was so early."
"He was offered by Notre Dame, Stanford, Florida State, Tennessee, Auburn, Georgia, Georgia Tech you name it ... the question is who didn't offer? He went to that Elite Eleven Camp in California and that was a really big deal. It was an 'invitation only' camp so it was a big deal."
And then came the departure of Joker Phillips and word spread that Blake was waivering. So we asked what happened right around that time in the process?
"I don't know," Blake replied. "I had a good relationship with Coach Phillips and I felt I could trust him. But after he left I got to know Coach Skip Holtz and I sat down and spoke with him and figured out it was still the best place for me."
"Tennessee and Florida State wanted me to come take visits after Coach Phillips left ... but I never did. I was solid with South Carolina, I just had to meet with Coach Skip. Georgia had offered me early ... but they knew I was going to South Carolina so I didn't hear from them much late."
Steve Pardue echoed those sentiments plus enlightened us a bit more into the relationship Joker had built and his history with the school.
"Yeah ... it was kind of a bad time when Joker left because it was during the dead time," Pardue explained. "So then Tennessee and Florida State got involved and they both set up visits ... they had already offered. But then the dead period got over and we finally got a chance to visit with Coach Skip Holtz and Blake decided then that all the reasons he decided on them earlier were still there."
Pardue continued, "Skip did a good job. Joker and I are really good friends. So wherever he has been he has always recruited this school. And Joker has known these kids for a long time, He talks to them and is around a lot. Joker handled it great. When he called Blake to tell him he was leaving he told Blake, 'Blake, you still need to come here (to South Carolina) this is still the place for you."
Gamecock fans are thankful.
When we asked Blake what his best attributes are as a quarterback this is what he had to say.
"My best attributes are that I sit in the pocket and throw the ball. I can find my receivers, and I know how to read defenses and find my receivers. I know how to run the ball, I can pick up yards if I have to on the ground. But I am more of a pro style quarterback."
From a different perspective Coach Pardue then offered his observations on Blake Mitchell the quarterback.
"He's a 4.7, but he's a drop back passer. He's a good enough athlete to get himself out of trouble but you don't want to go into a game counting on him to run the football ten times."
"His maturity ... it's been a lot of fun to work with him. He allowed us to do a lot of things offensively that we never thought we could do. We were able to check off at the line of scrimmage because he is so intelligent."
"The thing about Blake that I've learned is that you have to challenge him mentally. You have to give him more than most could handle to make him happy."
Blake commented on coming in early, and he noted the outstanding class South Carolina signed, of which he is now a part of ...
"I'll be up there soon after I graduate," said Mitchell. "We graduate the 25th of May and I'll be in Columbia working out with the team the first week in June."
"I've heard about some of the wide receivers I'll be playing with. Whiteside, Harper, Hill, Lee, Smith. I'm looking forward to getting to know them and playing ball with them. I've heard about Summers too. I've heard he's awesome so I can't wait until we all come together on the football field."
Pardue who has been the head coach at LaGrange for the past nine years while sending 45 players to major college football teams in the process added, "We average about 5 a year (sending players to play D1 ball). We had four go to the SEC this year and that was a first for us. We're only triple AAA classification, but we have good kids and good coaches around here so we see a lot of talent go through this place ... and Blake is one of the best I've ever had."
"He's a very good student. He is strong academically."
"He's planning on coming in and playing right away. He's pretty excited. He's going to try to get there early this summer."
We finished by thanking both player and coach for their time. Blake said, "Tell all the Gamecock fans on GamecockInsider.com I said hello ..."
Then we popped the question.
And what about Syvelle Newton? Are you ready for the competition?
"Yeah I've heard about that a lot. I'm really not that worried about it," said Mitchell confidently. "Anywhere you go you are going to have competition so ... I'm ready."
"Let the Gamecock Nation know I'll be ready to play when I get up there."
We just did Blake. Welcome to the family.