Senior will make a return trip to Frisco, Texas, in early January for The Sports Network Awards Banquet
He’d rather have his teammates along for the ride like last year, but nonetheless, Bo Levi Mitchell has another early January engagement in Frisco, Texas, on his calendar.
The Sports Network announced Thursday (Dec. 1) that the senior quarterback from Katy, Texas, is one of three finalists for the Walter Payton Award presented to the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. The award will be presented at the annual FCS Awards Banquet on Jan. 6 in Frisco, Texas. Fathead.com sponsors the prestigious award, which will be presented for the 25th time by The Sports Network.
A year ago after transferring from Southern Methodist University in nearby Dallas, Mitchell helped lead Eastern to the NCAA Division I title with a 20-19 come-from-behind victory over Delaware. Eastern won six of its last seven games to finish 6-5 this year, and Mitchell had a record-breaking season by passing for 4,009 yards and 33 touchdowns.
“It’s such an honor to even be considered for this national award,” said Mitchell, who was selected as the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2011. “But really, in my eyes it’s a team award because not only does it express what our offense has done this year, but it will help promote our program nationally – that’s what is most important to me.”
Other finalists for the award include Lehigh quarterback Chris Lum and Indiana State running back Shakir Bell. Eastern’s Erik Meyer won the Payton Award in 2005, and Greg Peach (2008) and J.C. Sherritt (2010) have previously won the Buck Buchanan Award presented to the top defensive player in FCS.
“I will be honored, win or lose,” the 2008 graduate of Katy High School added, “because either one of the other two athletes are just as talented and deserving.”
The most successful quarterback in Eastern history, he directed the Eagles to a 19-7 mark in his two seasons at EWU (12-4 in the Big Sky). He had more wins in a two-year span than any other Eastern quarterback in school history – even more than Meyer, who won 16 combined in the 2004 and 2005 seasons and had the previous school record for passing with 4,004 yards.
Mitchell, who was the Most Outstanding Player after directing Eastern to a victory in the NCAA Division I Championship Game, passed for a school-record 4,009 yards this season. His average of 364.5 yards per game ranks ninth in NCAA Football Championship Subdivision history and fourth all-time in the Big Sky.
Mitchell is just the fourth Big Sky quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in 11 games, and the other three – Montana’s Dave Dickenson in 1995, Weber State’s Jamie Martin in 1991, and Idaho’s John Friesz in 1989 – went on to win the Payton Award.
“Bo had an amazing career here for what he was able to accomplish statistically and from a win-loss standpoint,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “And throughout it all, he’s been a great leader and helped lead our program to a national championship. To have him even mentioned in the same breath as some of the great Eastern quarterbacks we’ve had here – including Payton Award winner Erik Meyer – would have been an incredible accomplishment in itself. In terms of winning the national title and leading us to 19 victories in two seasons, we’ve never had a quarterback more successful than Bo.”
The 19 wins in 2010 and 2011 combined are the most back-to-back in school history, so no quarterback has been as successful as Mitchell. Eastern has had six quarterbacks earn All-America honors – Meyer, Nichols, Blankenship (2002), Harry Leons (1997), Rick Worman (1985) and Bill Diedrick Jr. (1967), and the most back-to-back wins were recorded by Leons (18 in 1996-97) and Diedrick (18 in 1966-67). In their best seasons, Meyer won 16 (2004-05), Worman won 16 (1984-85) and Nichols won 15 (2007-08). Blankenship played only one season after transferring from Tulsa.
“I don’t think people realize that in two years he’s won 19 football games, which is more than any quarterback in the Big Sky right now and more than anybody in our history,” said Baldwin. “He’s not only put up great numbers and can throw the ball well, but he’s proven himself as a winner. Eight different times we were down or tied in the fourth quarter, and he led us back to win. That says a lot.”
Mitchell completed 318 of 503 passes (63.2 percent) for 4,009 yards with 33 touchdowns. Mitchell finished the 2011 regular season as the FCS leader in touchdown passes, total passing yards, passing yards per game, and total offense. Mitchell’s 318 completions in 2011 were a Big Sky single-season record, topping the previous mark of 311 set by Friesz in 1987.
He guided Eastern Washington to a 5-3 conference record despite the team suffering a myriad of key injuries early in the season and having a rushing offense that ranked 112th out of 120 teams in FCS.
More on Bo Levi Mitchell
Senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, a 2008 graduate of Katy (Texas) High School, broke the single season school record of 4,003 yards that Erik Meyer had in 2005 when he won the Walter Payton Award given to the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. Finishing with 4,009, Mitchell's mark ranks 17th all-time in the FCS and is fifth in Big Sky history. Mitchell also established a new school record by averaging 364.5 passing yards per game, good for ninth in FCS history and third all-time in the Big Sky.
With a quartet of 400-yard passing performances in the 2011 season – and four more of at least 300 – Mitchell’s season average of 364.5 ranked ahead of the previous record set in 2005 by Meyer when he averaged 333.6 yards per game. Mitchell’s career average of 288.7 per outing is also a school record and ranks ahead of the 268.4 average of Matt Nichols (2006-09). Mitchell's career average ranks 19th all-time in the FCS and sixth in the Big Sky.
Despite playing just two seasons at Eastern, Mitchell ranks third in school history for career passing yards (7,505) and third in touchdown passes (70), and he is also third in completions (618), fourth in attempts (1008) and third in passing efficiency rating (141.2). He had 10 300-yard performances in his 26-game EWU career, including four of the 19 400-yard performances in school history.
A year ago after transferring from Southern Methodist University, Mitchell was an honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference selection and was the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Division I Championship Game won by the Eagles 20-19 over Delaware.
He transferred to Eastern in January 2010, won the starting job in the spring and started his first game for the Eagles on Sept 2, 2010, versus Nevada. His 26th and final start came on Nov. 19, 2011.
“His development in just two years wasn’t easy and it took some time,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “He got better as the 2010 season went along, and we all expected that. A first-year starter is never going to be perfect at the start of the season, but you want to see serious progress. He worked at it and we saw the growth -- he worked hard to develop his skills and was tireless at studying video in order to better understand and operate our offense. It culminated with his production this season and the way our team ended the year with six wins in our last seven games. I couldn’t be more proud of what he accomplished here.”
“In a lot of ways, he played much better this year than a year ago,” he added. “It was just that a lot of other parts of our team didn’t necessarily go as well. In terms of his growth of a quarterback, he made huge strides and really worked at it.”