Sometimes how quickly a player sees the field is all about timing.
Take former Buckeye linebacker Jerome Baker for example. He was a backup as a true sophomore to start the 2016 season, but starting Will linebacker Dante Booker went down with an injury in week one. Baker stepped in and didn’t step out until he left early for the NFL after the 2017 season.
Baker was in the right place at the right time and made the most of it.
It was after that 2017 season that linebacker Teradja Mitchell signed with Ohio State. He was one of three linebackers OSU signed in the 2018 class. Unfortunately, timing wasn’t as fortunate for them. Sure, the Buckeyes were replacing departed starters Chris Worley and Jerome Baker in 2018, but those positions went to older players Malik Harrison and Pete Werner. It also didn’t help matters that the middle linebacker job had been taken over by redshirt freshman Tuf Borland in 2017.
Mitchell would then go on to spend his first three years as a Buckeye “stuck” behind the team leader in tackles. For two years it was Harrison, then last year it was Werner.
Timing is everything, and if it isn’t on your side, patience better be.
“It’s been very difficult,” Mitchell said this spring about remaining patient. “But it’s a commitment I made to this program my junior year when I committed. I’m all in on this program and I know that in the end it was gonna work out for me, so I just kept my head down and worked every day.”
Mitchell found a role on the Ohio State defense the past two years, tallying 12 tackles in 2019 and seven in a shortened season last year. He may have had veterans in front of him, but he didn’t just sit back and wait for his day to come. He has been preparing for it. Mitchell believes he used his time wisely and is prepared to prove himself this coming season.
“It’s just a blessing to be here and I’m happy to be in this situation,” he said. “That wait, it helped me to develop as a player mentally and physically. So now that I’m here, I’m ready to showcase it and ready to ball.”
Mitchell came to Ohio State as a highly-rated recruit, which can put unnecessary pressure on a person entering a brand new situation. Everybody has their own development and takes their own path getting there. To outsiders, it may appear that Teradja Mitchell had obstacles to overcome in the form of a depth chart pocked with veterans. To Mitchell, however, those road blocks weren’t as much frustration as they were inspiration.
“I wouldn’t even say it was frustrating. When I came here, I came here humble and just ready to work and learn,” said. “So just learning from the guys like Tuf, Pete, Baron (Browning), and Justin Hilliard, I just came in and learned from those guys. Obviously me being a natural leader, I just developed my leadership even more just watching those guys. Now that I’m a senior and have the ability to lead, it’s natural for me.”
Part of being a leader is setting an example for his teammates. Last year, Mitchell got more serious about his health and switched to a vegan diet after seeing how well it worked for quarterback Justin Fields. He has recently added fish back into his life, but he’s lighter and faster than he’s ever been. He’s currently listed at 235 pounds, which is 20 pounds lighter than his heaviest. He is moving better and feeling better than ever, both on the field and off.
It should lead to big things in 2021, and it will eventually lead to a decision about returning in 2022 or not. But he’s not there yet. He’s too busy working.
“I really haven’t looked at it like that,” he said of his future. “I’m just kind of falling in love with the process. Just coming in every day, putting my head down and working. God has a plan for me. Whatever his plan is, I’m all in on that. So I’m just coming out every day and working. Whatever happens, happens.”