Eagle quarterback follows national championship with the highest award in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision
His debut year, a national championship. The next year, the Walter Payton Award.
Those are the crowning glories for Eastern Washington University quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, who capped a sensational two-year career for the Eagles by being selected as the winner of the Walter Payton Award given to the top player in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision.
Fathead.com sponsors the prestigious award, which was presented for the 25th time by The Sports Network at the annual FCS Awards Banquet on Friday evening (Jan. 6) in Frisco, Texas. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Mitchell edged out the other two finalists -- Lehigh quarterback Chris Lum and Indiana State running back Shakir Bell -- for the award.
Mitchell received 57 first-place votes and 453 total to win by a comfortable margin. Lum and Bell each finished with 219 votes, with Lum receiving 16 first-place votes and Bell getting 10.
“It’s an honor even to be mentioned in the final three,” said Mitchell, who becomes the fourth Eastern player in the last seven seasons to win either the Payton Award or the Buck Buchanan Award (top defensive player in FCS). “But to win the award is a huge accomplishment not only for me but for Eastern and our community.”
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. A total of seven players from the Big Sky Conference have now won the Payton Award.
After playing two seasons at Southern Methodist University, Mitchell transferred to Eastern in January 2010 and led the Eagles to the NCAA Division I title his first season. The native of Katy, Texas, was selected as the Most Outstanding Player in EWU’s 20-19 come-from-behind victory over Delaware in the title game.
In 2011, Mitchell led the FCS in four categories, including passing yards (4,009) and touchdown passes (33) on his way to breaking four school records. He broke EWU’s record for single season passing yards with 4,009, which ranks 17th in FCS history and fifth in Big Sky Conference history.
“He really had an amazing career here,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “It’s a compliment to his work ethic and his ability to pick-up a new system. He had the talent and basically just evolved within our system and kept getting better. Even though our record wasn’t what we wanted, he kept finding a way to improve and get better every week all the way until the end of the season. That says a lot about his mentality, his competitiveness and his overall drive.”
“I want to thank my parents for everything they’ve done for me throughout my entire life, and my brothers who have always led me along the way and have been role models,” praised Mitchell. “And I appreciate all the coaches along the way, including Coach (June) Jones and Coach (Dan) Morrison at SMU for everything they taught me. Coach (Zak) Hill and Coach Baldwin have transformed me and turned me into the player I am today. Those people are the reason I won this award.”
Baldwin said he fully expects the strong-armed Mitchell – nicknamed the “Gunslinger” – to have the opportunity to play professional football for a long time.
“I expect him to be in a camp somewhere,” Baldwin said. “In my opinion, he’s too good a football player and too good a quarterback to not have at least the opportunity to make a team and play football at the next level.”
Mitchell was named to seven All-America teams this past season, earning first team honors on six of them. He was the top quarterback on teams selected by The Sports Network, American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp, Associated Press, Phil Steele Publications and Beyond Sports College Network. Also, Mitchell earned third team honors from collegesportsmadness.com, with The College Sporting News Fabulous Fifty All-America team yet to be announced.
“To win all the national honors and win a national championship has been amazing to me and is something I’ll remember all my life,” Mitchell said. “I’ve created relationships with players and coaches on this team that will last a lifetime.”
Eagles Lead FCS in Passing Offense Despite Rash of Injuries . . .
Along with fellow All-Americans Nicholas Edwards (wide receiver) and Chris Powers (center), in 2011 Eastern led FCS in passing yards per game (368.5) and ranked seventh overall in total offense (447.4). The Eagles won six of their last seven games to finish 6-5 after an 0-4 start. A year earlier, the Eagles finished with an 11-game winning streak and closed the year 13-2.
“As every quarterback will say, the team comes first,” Mitchell said. “People look to us in the good times and the bad, but in our eyes we owe the success to our teammates. We couldn’t do a thing without them – including the five guys in front of us, those four receivers who make us look good and the running backs who are the work horses. It’s fun to go out there with them and put in the hard work that creates these kind of moments and national championships. I obviously need to thank Coach Baldwin and Coach Hill for what they’ve done for me in my life – not only in football but outside of football. That has been huge and helped change me and turn my life around.”
Mitchell also had the rare opportunity to play the 2011 season with his older brother Cory Mitchell, a freshman wide receiver who finished with 19 catches for 310 yards and a pair of scores.
“When I transferred, the idea was to just to play two more years of football and have fun with it,” Bo Levi explained. “Not only that, but I wanted the opportunity to play with my brother. It’s been an honor to play with this group of guys and create the family we have. It’s been huge to be able to take this school to its first national championship.”
Injuries and a difficult early-season schedule were the main factors in keeping the Eagles from repeating as national champions.
“With everybody we had coming back, we obviously had big goals in mind and winning the national championship again was No. 1,” he said. “With all the injuries we had, it became one of those situations where you just have to go out and play.”
A total of 14 starters – seven on each side of the ball -- suffered injuries that kept them out of the lineup – including seven players lost for the season. Eastern’s offensive line was the hardest hit, as a total of 10 players started along the offensive line.
“You never know who is going to block in front of you and you never know what opponent is going to be in your face,” said Mitchell. “We had a lot of new players in there, but (offensive line coach) Aaron Best knew what he was doing. It opened my eyes to better respect the game, and respect football players as a whole. You can never underestimate your teammates and what they can do for you. Obviously, those players stepped in and played great the entire year and are really the reason we won the games we did.”
A knee injury forced Powers to miss most of Eastern’s game versus Montana State on Sept. 24 and the three games after that, becoming the fifth Eastern starting offensive lineman to miss action because of injuries. Converted from tight end the previous Monday, Patrick Mealey took the place of Powers against MSU, and EWU would win the next three games with Mealey as a starter. Previously, the injured offensive linemen included a trio of guards who were the backups to Powers. And because of those injuries, former offensive lineman Brandon Murphy moved from defense to offense in the middle of the Montana game on Sept. 17.
“Nothing worse could happen,” said Mitchell. “We lost our starting center, our right guard and our left guard, and both of those players were our backup centers. It just got to a point where we had to go out and have fun, and I had to trust the guys in front of me. Thankfully, those guys helped us do that.”
“There were times where I would see players in positions I had never seen there before,” he added. “My hat is off to Pat Mealey for the great job he did this year – he was 3-0 as a starter. He’s not as big as Chris Powers, so it was like taking a snap from a wide receiver. Looking back on it, it was fun and a good time.”
Whoever inherits Mitchell’s job next season – junior-to-be Anthony Vitto and freshman redshirt-to-be Vernon Adams are the frontrunners – will have a trio of 1,000-yard receivers to throw to. Brandon Kaufman, an All-American as a sophomore in 2010 when he caught 76 passes for 1,214 yards and 15 touchdowns, redshirted in 2011 because of a broken metacarpal on his left hand that required surgery. Edwards (95 catches for 1,250 yards and 19 touchdowns) and Greg Herd (67 receptions for 1,022 yards and seven scores) had sensational performances in 2011 and return for their senior seasons in 2012.
“I would give anything I could to come back and play with these guys again,” he said. “You have three 1,000-yard receivers, two of them All-Americans who have set records. Plus you have my brother, Ashton Clark and Tyler Hart all coming back. It’s a group of receivers I can put the ball anywhere and they will go make plays. The quarterback next year has to really be drooling knowing they have such a talented receiving corp to throw to.”
More on Bo Levi Mitchell
Senior quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, a 2008 graduate of Katy (Texas) High School, was the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year and a first team All-BSC selection as a senior. That led to consensus first team All-America accolades, including honors from the American Football Coaches Association, Associated Press and The Sports Network.
Eastern won six of its last seven games to finish 6-5 in the 2011 season, and Mitchell had a record-breaking season by passing for 4,009 yards and 33 touchdowns. 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.
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.
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, Josh 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.
As a junior in the 2010 season 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. He was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player after throwing three touchdown passes in the final 16:48 and had 302 total passing yards in the game.
“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 Eastern head coach Beau 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 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. Mitchell’s average of 364.5 yards per game in the 2011 season ranks ninth in NCAA Football Championship Subdivision history and fourth all-time in the Big Sky.
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.
Mitchell 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.
“Bo had an amazing career here for what he was able to accomplish statistically and from a win-loss standpoint,” said 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.”
After transferring from Southern Methodist University, Mitchell was an honorable mention All-Big Sky Conference selection in 2010. 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.”
BIG SKY PAYTON AWARD WINNERS
1989 - JOHN FRIESZ, QUARTERBACK, IDAHO
1991 - JAMIE MARTIN, QUARTERBACK, WEBER STATE
1993 - DOUG NUSSMEIER, QUARTERBACK, IDAHO
1995 - DAVE DICKENSON, QUARTERBACK, MONTANA
1996 - ARCHIE AMERSON, RUNNING BACK, N. ARIZONA
2005 - ERIK MEYER, QUARTERBACK, EASTERN WASHINGTON
2011 - BO LEVI MITCHELL, QUARTERBACK, EASTERN WASHINGTON
BIG SKY BUCHANAN AWARD WINNERS
2003 - JARED ALLEN, DEFENSIVE END, IDAHO STATE
2007 - KROY BIERMANN, DEFENSIVE END, MONTANA
2008 - GREG PEACH, DEFENSIVE END, E. WASHINGTON
2010 - J.C. SHERRITT, LINEBACKER, E. WASHINGTON
BIG SKY ROBINSON AWARD WINNERS
1991 - CHRIS AULT NEVADA
2000 - JOE GLENN, MONTANA