By Joe Fortenbaugh and Wes Bunting:
It’s easy for NFL hopefuls to get caught up in the hype at this time of year.
Their names are plastered everywhere, from the school newspaper to hundreds of Internet sites documenting every move they make in preparation for the NFL Draft. Everything from their 40-yard-dash times to what they eat for breakfast is suddenly newsworthy.
But for University of South Florida wide receiver Carlton Mitchell, this is the time of year to get better — especially after he decided to forgo his senior season to enter April’s draft.
“I know mentally I’m there. I’m ready, and physically I’m there, but as a complete player, I’m not there,” Mitchell told us during a recent podcast. “I know I could have stayed back in college for another year for experience, but at the same time, I’m ready to move on. I’m ready to step into an NFL team and compete and try to contribute to their team in whatever role they need me in. Whatever lies ahead, I’ll be ready for.”
Mitchell didn’t put up a gaudy stat line during his final season with the Bulls (40 receptions, 706 yards, four touchdowns), but that doesn’t mean he should be taken lightly on the field. The 6-4, 212-pound wideout is one of the best deep-ball threats in this year’s draft class. He averaged 17.7 yards per reception in 2009, good for fifth in the Big East and 27th in the country (minimum 35 receptions).
Stats aside, if there’s one thing we learned about Mitchell during our interview, it’s that the guy is a hard worker — a trait he learned at a young age spending time around the sport of boxing.
Mitchell’s mother, Angela, is the cut woman for former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver. As a 12-year-old, Mitchell grew up around boxing and had an inside look at the type of work it takes to become a champion.
“(Tarver’s trainer Jimmy Williams) had me jumping rope every day in the summer for 30 minutes to an hour. It helped my full body conditioning, it helped my footwork. And that helps contribute over on the field.”
Now, as he prepares to play football at the professional level, Mitchell is putting himself through even more rigorous workouts. The 21-year-old is training twice a day at the University of South Florida, sometimes catching up to 300 passes in a single day.
“I wake up every day around 7:45 a.m. or 8 a.m. and then head to the USF campus to do a little speed work and a little stretching. That normally takes about two hours. Then I go home, I eat, take a nap and then go back and catch about 200-300 balls from the Jugs machine.”
We were both in awe when we heard Mitchell say he catches up to 300 balls a day from the Jugs machine, which doesn’t exactly float passes to its intended target.
But it’s that type of work ethic that helps separate a contender from a champion.