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Spotlight on Former Athlete: Jeff Mitchell – Football 1991-95

 

Mitchell remains up close

 

and personal with Ragin’ Cajuns

 

 

By Bruce Brown

 

Written for Athletic Network

 

 

Jeff Mitchell was in Destin, Fla., last summer, enjoying the rays as well as the attention sparked by his UL Ragin’ Cajuns shirt.

 

I couldn’t be more proud of the Cajuns, and the University as a whole,” said Mitchell, a Loreauville product who from 1991-95 was one of the most ferocious defensive players in Cajun football history.

 

The softball team had just reached the World Series, and baseball was still going strong. Football went to a third straight bowl game and basketball had made the NCAA Tournament.

 

Everywhere I went, people wanted to talk to me about the Ragin’ Cajuns.”

 

Naturally, Mitchell’s chief athletic focus remains the football program, which will go to a fourth straight bowl this winter.

 

I see how hard they work, how they prepare,” he said. “And, now that they’ve had success, they’re a target. They get everybody’s best shot. Nobody’s going to give you anything.

 

One thing I’ve noticed is that they make sure to stay grounded. They preach core values and (winning with) class.”

 

Mitchell has a better view of that hard work than most, even more than the usual ex-Cajun. The 2014 season is the third in a row in which the 12-year veteran of the Louisiana State Police has served as one of coach Mark Hudspeth’s security escorts during games – a role especially valuable on the road in hostile territory.

 

I enjoy it,” Mitchell said. “It’s a lot of fun. I’m a big football fan, and definitely a Cajun fan. This gives me a bird’s eye view of what’s going on. You’re not going to get any closer to the action than that.

 

It’s awesome, almost like being in school again. I see them play hard, see them lift each other up. They’re there for each other. It’s great to see. They talk about holding on to the rope. We had the same concept – dig deeper – with different terminology.”

 

Mitchell helped to spearhead one of the great eras in UL football – the most recent such surge before Hudspeth’s arrival. The 1993 Cajuns erased memories of a 2-9 finish in 1992 by going 8-3 and winning the Big West Conference championship. In 1994, they went 6-5 with a BWC co-title, and the 1995 Cajuns also finished 6-5.

 

Sadly, there weren’t as many bowl games as there are now, so they were left home.

 

It’s hard to put into words what that 1993 season felt like,” Mitchell said. “We knew we had the talent, that we worked hard and were deserving of success. The year before, we just came up short.

 

In 1993, we just refused to lose and we put it all together. We were there for each other.”

 

Those Cajuns lost the opener, 34-13 to Utah State, with freshman Jake Delhomme inserted at quarterback at halftime in desperation. They fell 29-28 at Miami of Ohio, then ripped off six straight wins to find their stride.

 

That Miami of Ohio game was a turning point,” Mitchell said. “I think we were up 20 at half and they came back on us. After that, we knew we had a good team that could score and play the game. You’ve just got to finish (the job).

 

We let that one get away, and it left a sour taste in our mouths – one we didn’t want to have again.”

 

Mitchell was a man possessed in 1993. “Big Dog,” as he was known in his prep days, established school records for quarterback sacks (11 for 83 yards) and tackles for losses (21 for 119, including five at Northern Illinois).

 

He finished as the Cajun career leader in sacks (21 for 153) and TFL’s (45 for 227).

 

Now, nearly 20 years later, those marks are sure to fall. Christian Ringo’s sterling effort in a 34-27 win at UL Monroe left him on the verge of topping Mitchell’s season and career records with two games and a bowl to go.

 

When I see him play, I see total dominance,” Mitchell said of Ringo. “It’s like he can’t be blocked. He flings people around like he’s in a barroom fight.”

 

Mitchell did his fair share of foe-flinging himself in a different era of success.

 

The game has changed, as far as X’s and O’s,” he said. “With the spread offense, you see more calls made at the line. You line up, see what they’re going to run and adjust according to that. We didn’t have all the hand signals and poster boards on the sidelines they have now.”

 

There were, of course, adjustments from Mitchell’s prep stardom at Loreauville.

 

I had to adjust to the speed of the game, and the mental part of it,” he said. “On defense, the coaches told me that if I didn’t know what I was doing they couldn’t put me out there. It was a lot simpler in high school.

 

My first year, I played outside linebacker and had to learn how to cover in the flat. Then (assistant) coach Vic Eumont came in and we had to learn all of his blitz packages.

 

I had great work habits and I really pushed myself. It was never a lack of effort with me. You can get by with a mistake if you’re giving 100 percent.”

 

Those Cajuns in the mid-1990’s challenged each other verbally and physically every day to be better. It was fierce during the week, then successful on Saturdays when they pooled their talents for coach Nelson Stokley.

 

(Tackle) Keno Hills played in the NFL, and I went against him day-in and day-out,” Mitchell recalled. “We had Jake. We had running backs like Marcus Prier and Kenyon Cotton, receivers like Marcus Carter (father to current Cajun Montrel Carter) and tight ends like Buck Moncla and Ryan McGrath.

 

We were so good in practice, sometimes Game Day was easier. They would not take it easy on you. If they caught you slipping, they’d make you pay. That went both ways. Then, we were there for each other for games.”

 

The talkative ringleader of the Cajun defense was safety Orlando Thomas as its ball-hawking center fielder, aided by Mitchell and Conrad Lewis at ends and middle linebacker Patrice Alexander roving sideline to sideline, among others.

 

The recent passing of Thomas after a valiant 10-year battle with ALS left a lasting impression on his former teammates.

 

I think of Orlando, and just shake my head,” Mitchell said. “I never saw him during his battle, what he had to go through. I remember he was the leader of our team and was always so full of life. Every Saturday, he’d give you all he had.

 

I remember watching him play in the NFL. It was heartbreaking.”

 

Mitchell took his own turn at professional football, with Houston in the Arena League, before entering law enforcement. He spent 5 years with the New Iberia Police Department before joining the State Police, staying close to his mother and his roots the whole time.

 

I had fun. I could have played longer,” said Mitchell, who was joined in Houston by former UL teammates Luke Yarnell, Fernando Thomas and Conrad Lewis. “I was always going to be back in the area.

 

If I had to decide again where to play in college, I’d make the same decision. It all works out. The people, culture and friends in the area make it special. Fans still embrace you after all this time, and it fills your heart.”

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Shown above are the 1993 USL Ragin’ Cajuns Big West Conference Champions, 8 – 3. Jeff is #48, located on the second row from the top and 4th person counting from the right side.

Click here for Tim Buckley’s Daily Advertiser Dec. 21, 2012 story on Jeff Mitchell titled, "Got your back"- Jeff Mitchell, former Cajun Footballer, shadows Hud on game days.

Click here for photo of Jeff Mitchell at Coach Hudspeth’s side as they prepared to enter Cajun Field from the tunnel during the 2013 season.

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Click here for the chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes.