Carlton Mitchell's introduction to football began on special teams. Entering Mitchell's freshman year at Lutz (Fla.) Gaither High School, a friend decided to try out for the football team. He asked Mitchell to join him. Mitchell agreed, but his first position did not offer much glory. One of Gaither's assistant coaches placed Mitchell at punter. The bad decision quickly corrected itself.
"There was a bad snap," Mitchell said. "So, I took off and ran."
When Mitchell ran, it was noticeably fast. The coaches suddenly had different plans for him.
"Coach asked me if I knew much about being a wide receiver," Mitchell said. "I didn't, but I knew I had to run and catch the ball. I ended up falling in love with the position."
Eight seasons later that love, along with a strong family support system and a relentless work ethic, helped Mitchell reach the NFL. On April 24, the Cleveland Browns drafted Mitchell with the eighth pick of the sixth round (No. 177th overall). On July 9, Mitchell signed a four-year, $1.9 million contract.
"He's really excited about going to the Browns," Mitchell's agent Christina Phillips said. "It was one of the best opportunities to have a chance to step in and immediately play a significant role. In the NFL, that's all you can ask for."
‘Place to be is up to me'
Mitchell has the speed and size of a No. 1 receiver in the NFL. At 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, he also has the look. At the NFL Combine at Indianapolis last February, Mitchell not only had the look, but also produced impressive numbers. He was among the combine's top performers in the 40-yard dash (4.49 for 10th-best among receivers), bench press (16 reps at 225 pounds for eighth best among receivers) and broad jump (10 feet, 2 inches for a tie for sixth-best).
His performance came on the heels of a successful junior season at the University of South Florida, where he caught 40 balls for 706 yards and four touchdowns. In addition, Mitchell set USF records for catches for 50 or more yards in a single season (eight), most career receiving yards (1,648), most 100-yard receiving games in a single season (five) and most receiving yards in a single season (706).
Yet scouts were wary of Mitchell turning pro. Among the concerns, Mitchell only started 18 of 37 games at South Florida.
"I was a little surprised he came out early, but really surprised he dropped to the sixth round," said Larry Weisbaum, publisher of Scout.com's USFNation.com. "The Browns got a steal there. Give him a year to learn that system and he can explode."
Mitchell has heard talent evaluators knock the perceived lack of experience.
"I've always done my own thing and my grandma tells me the place to be is up to me," Mitchell said. "Everyone always has something to say about anybody, no matter the player. I'll admit there's a lot I need to work on. I'm never going to say I'm a complete wide receiver. For the most part in this league, I'm ready. I will be ready by the time camp comes around. I'm training two to three times a day to get my body and my mind ready. I got respect for everyone's opinion, but I know what I will do. It drives me. I ended up with a great team and it's a true blessing. Mentally, I felt as if I was ready. Physically, I was there. It was time for me to move on and help anther team win.
"Now I just keep my mouth shut and work."
Family drives Mitchell to work
Mitchell finds motivation during each of his workouts by telling himself there is another wide receiver working harder than him.
"You can never catch too many balls," he said. "I'm in the playbook everyday because I want to become a true student. Guys have said after you're in the league for a few years, the game starts to slow down because mentally you know what to do and when to do it. The more information I learn now the better I'll be for the future."
Mitchell has gone so far as to purchase a strobe light for his bedroom.
"I'll turn it on and throw a football or tennis ball up in the air to work on my hand-eye coordination," he said. "I'm always trying to better myself."
From an early age, Mitchell knew his future would revolve around sports. His father, Carl Mitchell, played professional basketball in Europe. His mother, Angela Mitchell, ran track before becoming a nurse anesthetist and serving as a "cut man" for boxer Antonio Tarver.
Carlton Mitchell grew up with divorced parents and it was the women in his life that served as a catalyst to his hard-working nature.
"My mom raised my sister and me on her own," Mitchell said. "I'd watch her make sacrifices to do that and it's been the main source of my motivation. My mom, sister, niece and grandma taught me about keeping strong faith and they're a big part of my drive. I take a lot of pride in my character. Off the field I try to make all the right decisions. I don't want to do something to make my family, and now the Cleveland Browns, look bad."
Mitchell finding additional support system
Born and raised in Florida, Mitchell has not experienced the biting cold and snow-packed northeast Ohio winter.
"I could play in the cold, but I'm not used to living in the cold," said Mitchell, laughing.
Since he was drafted last April, Mitchell has spent only a limited amount of time in northeast Ohio. When he was in town for organized team activities or minicamps, he used some free time to drive around and get to know his new home.
"I could see the spirit of the Cleveland Browns," he said. "Everyone loves the Cleveland Browns. The fans are amazing. From Facebook to those who reached out to me on Twitter, you could tell these are hardcore and true fans. They've been there no matter what and that helps a lot. To have a support system like that in your corner is a true blessing."
Currently, Mitchell's main goal is the make the 53-man roster. He has yet to play a down of NFL football so, for now, his larger goals are tabled.
"All I can focus on is making the roster," he said. "I want to continue to do the right things, continue to get better and show the coaches they can trust me."
Mitchell's early impressions on the Browns coaches have been, for the most part, positive.
"Carlton has gotten a little better every day," said coach Eric Mangini in a press conference this summer. "He's a hard worker. He has good speed and good size. He's making progress in terms of his assignments and adjustments."
The Browns wide receiving corps was the most inexperienced group on the team until the team signed 14-year veteran Bobby Engram on July 8. When the news broke of the signing, Mitchell brushed up on Engram's career.
"I'm very excited about him," Mitchell said. "We have young wide receivers in (Brian) Robiskie and (Mohamed) Massaquoi and while they're only both going into their second year I've learned so much from them already. With a veteran like Engram I can learn that much more.
"I'm just going to try and suck up as much information as I can because I want to better myself and reach my potential for my team. I really just want to win."