ARIZONA FOOTBALL

Mitchell has bright future on 'dark side'

2010-04-18T00:00:00Z Mitchell has bright future on 'dark side'Ryan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 18, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Earl Mitchell is a control freak.

The Arizona Wildcats' defensive tackle says he has never touched alcohol, even a sip, for fear it would get in the way of his burgeoning football career.

Mitchell's a good student, a winner of the National Academic Momentum Award. The Houston-native works hard. He stays clean.

"Everything else gets in the way of the stuff that's important," he said.

It's ironic - and probably torturous - that the biggest day of Mitchell's life will be completely out of his control. The 6-foot-2-inch, 295-pound senior is expected to be taken in the third or fourth round of this week's NFL draft; which team selects him, and where he continues his football career, will be up to somebody else.

Mitchell has visited the Eagles and the Cardinals in the last few weeks; the Packers, the Seahawks and the Jaguars are also reportedly interested.

Mitchell's projected destination could change numerous times in the next week, and he knows it.

"I'm good. I'm not too nervous," he said. "I feel like I've done all I could do improve, not decline."

The Star talked to Mitchell, 22, about his ascent from H-back to NFL hopeful, his personal goals and this week's draft:

Q: Two years ago, you were playing H-back. Now, you're one of the country's top-rated defensive tackles …

A: "I know, it's crazy. There was already word going around when I was on offense that they might want me on defense. It never crossed my mind at all, playing defense. My sophomore year, I would get hints - the d-line coach (Mike Tuiasosopo) would always look at me and say, 'Come take a trip on the dark side, Earl.' I never thought anything of it. When we got depleted - a lot of guys weren't able to play on the d-line, and we had a few issues with some guys on the team - they asked me to move."

Q: Were you cool OK with the move?

A: "My initial thing was, 'Do it for the team.' I just wanted to help … I wanted to be a productive part of my team, wanted to be a leader."

Q: You were a team leader right away. Why was that?

A: "I knew what it took at the college level. I knew to keep my nose clean. I knew there were people I couldn't be with. If there were certain things going on, I knew I probably should be there. I don't drink. Every time I got asked that question at the Combine, people stopped and said, Really? Not one sip?' I'm like, 'No.' "

Q: Was that a personal decision, or a football one - or both?

A: "It was for me. I feel like a lot of people can't control themselves when they drink, and I wouldn't want to not be in control of my body. I'm a different person on the football field; to be a different person when I drink, I don't think that would be good. I like to be in control."

Q: Do you think that helped your career?

A: "I feel more disciplined, and I can focus on the things that are more important. I was raised by my grandmother, and she talked to me all the time about discipline, not smoking and not drinking. There's a lot of her in my head, even though she has passed. It's second nature now. A lot of my discipline, a lot of my focus, comes from her. Maybe I overdid it sometimes, and I probably did miss out, but I was always focused. That's what's important."

Q: You're always in control. Any chance that you'll let out a little emotion when you're drafted?

A: "I'll be excited, but - knowing me - I'm going to be ready to work. I'm not one of those kinds of people who wears his emotions on his sleeve. I'll be excited, but I'll also be ready to work. It's the same feeling I had right before I came to Arizona. As soon as I made the decision to come to Arizona, I had my head in the playbook. I was ready to go."

Q: Most college football players grow up dreaming of the NFL. Same for you?

A: "Actually, I was really into wrestling. Wrestling used to be really good. I'd watch it all the time. I knew from the beginning that it was fake, but I thought the storylines were the most interesting on earth. Some of the best stories told were in wrestling."

Q: Did you have a favorite wrestler?

A: "(Bill) Goldberg, he was a solid guy. He was different from most wrestlers. He was silent, wore black tights and was undefeated for two years. That was one guy I emulated growing up.

Wrestling was something I was into before I ever got into football."

Q: Still follow it?

A: "I actually went to WrestleMania (XXVI) when it was in Phoenix. I always really wanted to go as a kid. Even though I really don't really watch wrestling like I used to, it was fun. I looked up while I was there and was like, 'Wow.' "

Wildcats' prospects

Arizona's NFL draft hopefuls

Position, Name Round

TE Rob Gronkowski 1st or 2nd

DT Earl Mitchell 3rd or 4th

DB Devin Ross 6th or 7th

LB Vuna Tuihalamaka 6th or 7th or undrafted free agent

FB Chris Gronkowski 7th or undrafted

S Cam Nelson 7th or undrafted

WR Terrell Turner 7th or undrafted

LB Sterling Lewis 7th or undrafted

LB Xavier Kelley 7th or undrafted

RB Nick Booth 7th or undrafted

OG Mike Diaz 7th or undrafted

Up next

• What: 2010 NFL draft

• Thursday: Round 1, 3 p.m.

• Friday: Rounds 2-3, 4:30 p.m.

• Saturday: Rounds 4-7, 7 a.m.

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