Headed to Frisco, Texas, for title tilt on Jan. 7, the native of Katy, Texas, and SMU transfer won’t be home for the holidays but he’ll be there eventually
He won’t be home for the holidays, but Eastern Washington University junior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell really doesn’t mind.
He’ll be there Jan. 7 playing the game he loves, and that’s what he’s excited about right now.
The junior quarterback from Katy, Texas, transferred to EWU from Southern Methodist University, and has led the Eagles to the cusp of a national title. Eastern will take on Delaware in the 2011 NCAA Division I Football Championship Game on Jan. 7 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas. Kickoff is 4 p.m. Pacific time and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
SMU is located in Dallas, about 25 minutes from Frisco where the championship game will be played. His hometown of Katy, which is located near Houston, is about five hours away.
“It’s going to be really exciting to get away from all this cold weather,” said Mitchell, who has thrown a school-record 34 touchdown passes in leading Eastern to a 12-2 record overall. “I’m really excited to go back there and play near my hometown. It’s almost like it’s meant to be to play in the state I came from. It’s a complete loop, really. I will have a lot of family and friends there who haven’t seen me for awhile, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Although the team was given five days off for the holidays before resuming practices next Tuesday (Dec. 28), Mitchell will remain in Cheney where his mother and two of his brothers live. His younger brother Cory, a redshirt wide receiver for the Eagles, will also be making the trip with the team.
“Everyone is pretty excited, but obviously Bo going back home to Texas is a neat story for him,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin, who was overjoyed last winter when Mitchell announced he was transferring to EWU from SMU. Baldwin sees the irony of Mitchell getting the chance to win a national title in front of his hometown fans, but that really wasn’t discussed until recently.
“We didn’t talk about national titles or anything like that -- it was all about the focus of winning the Big Sky title,” Baldwin said of his Big Sky co-championship team. “We never paid attention to him being able to return to Texas for the title game, but it just worked out that way. And we couldn’t be happier for him.”
Despite getting to see his family and friends back home, Mitchell says the Eagles have one focus on Jan. 7.
“We’re so ready to be there and so ready to play,” he explained. “We’re not just happy about being in this game and going to Texas and playing under the lights. We’re there for one reason, and that is to win the national championship. There is nothing we are going to let get in the way of that. I am excited about seeing my family and friends who I haven’t seen for a long time, but regardless, it comes down to coming out there and playing the game. When you step on that field, it’s really just another football game.”
Mitchell will look forward to playing in the warm weather of Texas. Playing in the cold climates of the Pacific Northwest -- including three playoff games at home at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash. -- took some getting used to. The Cheney and Spokane, Wash., areas had the most snowfall on record for November.
“I just wasn’t used to it -- it’s hard to throw when it’s wet and cold,” he said. “I’m used to playing in 90-degree weather when it’s nice and sunny. I’ve adjusted well -- it took a little bit of time at first but I got it down. I don’t know if you ever get used to it, but you learn to adapt.”
Mitchell Ranks 22nd in Passing In FCS . . .
Mitchell has completed 58.7 percent of his passes for 3,194 yards this season, and threw a school-record 34 touchdown passes. He also had 14 interceptions, and a passing efficiency rating of 134.96. In NCAA Football Championship Subdivision statistics, he ranks 22nd in passing offense (228.1 yards per game), 28th in total offense (231.8) and 27th in efficiency (134.96).
His learning curve was difficult early in the season, as he adjusted the intricacies of Eastern’s offense, but he has certainly settled in as the weeks have gone by.
“It’s been an up-and-down year, but it’s been a successful season for me,” said Mitchell. “I give credit to the offensive coaches for getting me ready, and the offensive line and receivers for making plays. This is an offense I’m very comfortable in. In high school, I ran this kind of offense, so I’m comfortable in knowing what it takes to run this offense. That is something that has helped me be successful -- knowing how to move the chains and knowing when to take the shots when you need to.”
Mitchell is coming off a 27-of-38 performance against Villanova in the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs, as he finished with 292 yards and four touchdowns. He had scoring tosses of 31 and 6 yards to Nicholas Edwards, 76 yards to Brandon Kaufman and 23 yards to Greg Herd, giving him 34 for the season to tie the EWU single-school record with Matt Nichols (2007).
One week earlier, Mitchell had just 38 yards through 37 1/2 minutes of EWU’s playoff victory over North Dakota State. But he was 5-of-13 for 78 yards during a 13-play, 90-yard drive to knot the game with 23 seconds to play on a 4-yard touchdown pass to Edwards. He converted two plays on fourth down on the drive and also had a 40-yard pass to Edwards. Mitchell, who was 13-of-32 for 141 yards, two interceptions and three touchdowns in the game, provided the game-winning points with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Hart on the first play of overtime.
The thrilling finish was one of many for EWU this season. It was the fifth time this season the Eagles have won after trailing or with the game tied in the fourth quarter.
“It’s been one of those roller-coaster seasons where most of our games have come down to the wire and the last minute or two,” he explained. “We just have a team full of heart. We may not be the fastest or most talented team out there, but we have the players out there we need. We put that out on the field and it works.”
A week prior to the NDSU game he had a 21-of-34 effort against Southeast Missouri State in the playoffs in which he had a pair of second half touchdowns and 178 total yards. One game earlier, Mitchell earned high praise after passing for 256 yards and four touchdowns in EWU’s 34-7 win over Idaho State. Mitchell was 20-of-25 for 213 yards and four touchdowns in the first half alone, as he directed the Eagles on scoring drives of 55, 63, 71 and 95 yards. He closed the game 26-of-38 (68.4 percent) for 256 yards and no interceptions.
“He played really well,” Baldwin said. “I worry less about the numbers he put up and more about what he was doing with the football on each snap. It was snap after snap he was taking what the defense was giving him. He threw it away when he needed to throw it away, he went downfield when he needed to go downfield and he checked it down to the backs when he needed to do that. He played his best football game to date in terms of operating within the offense. He’s an incredibly good quarterback who is going to keep getting better with every game he plays in an Eagle uniform.”
Mitchell Transfers from SMU and Wins Eastern Job in a Hurry . . .
Mitchell came to Eastern from Southern Methodist where he started all 19 of the games he played. In his career, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Mitchell completed 385-of-676 passes (57.0 percent) for 4,590 yards (241.6 per game) with 36 touchdowns and 33 interceptions. He was also 29-1 as a high school starter at Katy (Texas) High School.
However, seven games into his sophomore season at SMU, he suffered a shoulder injury and was replaced by freshman Kyle Padron. Mitchell never regained his starting position as the Mustangs won five of its last six games to finish 8-5 and defeat Nevada 45-10 in the Hawaii Bowl.
“It was an individual decision where I could stay and get my degree or I could keep playing football,” said Mitchell. “I wanted to keep playing for as long as I was allowed to -- I knew one day it wasn’t going to be there. I wasn’t done playing yet. I got into contact with Eastern and we made it happen. I think I found the right place.”
After transferring to Eastern in January 2010, Mitchell secured the starting quarterback position with outstanding performances in three spring scrimmages, and was named the starter on April 29 -- barely three weeks into spring drills.
“He’s performed extremely well considering he had to learn a new system,” Baldwin said before the season began. “He has all the tools to be a great collegiate quarterback at any level. He can make every throw in our offense and do them all well -- and a lot of them are not easy.”
Eastern had entered the spring taking a look at six players competing for the starting quarterback position. Returning letter winners Jeff Minnerly and Scott Burgett were in the mix, as well as 2009 redshirts Nick Gauthier and Anthony Vitto. Minnerly and Burgett are both sophomores, but had only 10 pass attempts between them as redshirt freshmen in 2009. Gauthier is a junior who transferred from Bakersfield College in California, and Vitto is a freshman. The sixth was Greg Panelli, a strong-armed, 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who passed for more than 5,000 yards and 56 touchdowns at Modesto Junior College and twice earned All-Golden Gate Conference honors.
Minnerly, however, was moved to safety during spring practice, and became Eastern’s starter at free safety. Vitto and Gauthier are the backups behind Mitchell on the depth chart.
Mitchell’s relationship with head coach Beau Baldwin -- a finalist for FCS Coach of the Year honors -- has been special. Eastern originally recruited Mitchell when he was playing high school football in Texas, and the bond has existed ever since.
“We are really close -- he’s a great guy and a great coach,” said Mitchell. “He’s one of those all-around coaches -- he brings his family around and we get to meet them all. We all feel really close to him. He’s a great guy off the field and he’s always there when you need him. He’s a genius when it comes to football, obviously. He’s up for national coach of the year, and it’s well-deserved. He’s taken what we have here and turned it into something special.”
Even Without Jones, Eastern Offense is Potent . . .
Besides Mitchell, Eastern has another top offensive standout in Payton Award candidate and Big Sky Conference co-Offensive Player of the Year Taiwan Jones. The All-America running back ranks second in FCS in both rushing yards (145.2 per game) and all-purpose yards (201.8), but suffered a fracture to the base of his fifth metatarsal bone in his left foot in EWU’s 38-31 overtime victory over North Dakota State on Dec. 11 in the quarterfinals.
He finished with a career-high 230 yards rushing in that game, including 203 yards and a touchdown in the first half. Jones has 1,742 rushing yards and 17 total touchdowns for the season
But the Eagles are 2-0 this season without Jones in the lineup as Mitchell has completed a combined 68 percent of his passes (50-of-74) for 629 yards, eight touchdowns, just one interception and a passing efficiency rating of 171.94. Most importantly, in those games he has directed Eastern on eight touchdown drives of at least 63 yards.
Mitchell completed 27-of-38 passes for 292 yards, no interceptions and four touchdowns in a 41-31 semifinal win over Villanova. He directed Eastern on touchdown drives of 63 yards (5 plays), 43 yards (8 plays), 80 (2 plays) and 63 yards (12 plays).
Earlier this season, Eastern scored 21-straight second-half points after falling behind 17-14 to surge past the Wildcats 35-24 in a crucial Big Sky Conference football game. Mitchell passed for 337 yards and four touchdowns and the defense had three interceptions that led to scores. He directed Eastern on touchdown drives of 66 yards (9 plays), 65 yards (13 plays), 80 yards (6 plays), 68 yards (9 plays) and 67 yards (4 plays).
Eastern finished with 465 yards of offense, and most importantly for the Eagles, they had leads after all four quarters -- including an 11-point winning margin. Mitchell was 23-of-36 as he finished with his first 300-yard passing game for the Eagles. He completed 14-of-19 passes in the first half and 9-of-17 in the second half.