Omaha World-Herald Photo
By Randy York
Swag means different things to different people. Some think it’s how cool you are or how much bounce you have in your step. Some think it’s the clothes you own or the jewelry you wear. Many see the word and can’t help but think overconfident to the nth degree – a politically correct way to say cocky.
Josh Mitchell, one of Nebraska’s best leaders in a small senior class, probably has most of that ground, if not all of it covered as he begins his fifth season as a Cornhusker cornerback. A graduate of Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Corona, Calif., Mitchell is living proof of a certain truth in an Eleanor Roosevelt quote. “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves,” she said. “The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
Eleanor, wife of United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was one of the most outspoken First Ladies in White House history. She would have liked Mitchell, who was so outspoken, he didn’t travel to the 2012 Capital One Bowl. Despite his temporary fall from grace, Mitchell, 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds, is Nebraska’s most experienced cornerback and team captain material among the likes of fellow senior leaders Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Corey Cooper and Jake Cotton. Whether he becomes a captain or not, Mitchell will help lead the 2014 Huskers in ways that reflect the growth he’s shown.
Pelini’s Focus on Process Finally Sunk In
Who could imagine a Southern Californian with substantial swag coming to Nebraska and reluctantly but devotedly reshaping his life? All it took was playing for a head coach who – like a certain action-oriented First Lady during World War II – believes that the process never ends until we die. Thankfully, Bo Pelini drilled into Mitchell’s hard-headed helmet and taught him one of life’s greatest lessons so he could understand that the choices you make are ultimately and uniformly your own responsibility. At the Big Ten Media Days in Chicago, Pelini told reporters that he was “unbelievably proud” of Mitchell. “Josh not only matured and developed and got better…he’s become a real leader in our program, a bell cow in how we do things,” Pelini said.
Bell cow? The expression might date way, way back itself because it now only appears in a premium unabridged dictionary that describes the phrase as slang for leader, based on a bell attached to its neck, presumably to draw followers. Somehow, I think Bo Pelini’s expression of Josh Mitchell came straight from his heart. It sounds to me like the ultimate salute for a player who is now so seasoned and positively charged that he just might be the most tuned in, toned down, and sweetened up player on this 2014 football team.
Mitchell: Bo Pelini like a Second Father
“I’m really appreciative of everything Coach Bo’s done for me over my career,” Mitchell said. “I was hanging on a very thin thread. It was either be here or go somewhere else and get my act together, grow up and mature.” Pelini demanded some good, old-fashioned introspection, and once Mitchell examined the swag in his mind, he changed his heart. “Coach Bo’s been like a second father to me,” he said. “He’s really helped me. I wasn’t buying into the program and didn’t believe in the culture. For him to stick with me and guide me through the process when I wasn’t the best teammate or player I could be, helped me change.” Let the record show that the once overconfident Mitchell has transitioned from self-centered confidence to almost awe-inspiring appreciation. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate how committed people are in this entire state,” he told me at Fan Day.
Coming Out of the Tunnel is Like a Movie
“The first time I legitimately got real, true-to-life goose bumps was the first game I started against Washington a couple years ago,” Mitchell said. “Coming out of that tunnel and seeing the sign that says ‘I play for Nebraska’ … you begin to hear the roar of the crowd…our Tunnel Walk feels like you’re in a movie, especially when it’s a night game because you can start to see the lights, start to see the fans and start to hear the roar. I get goose bumps and nervous at the same time.”
Mitchell’s first experience wasn’t a night game, but it helped him understand “why people love this place so much,” he said. “It’s something that I will tell my kids and grand kids about someday,” Mitchell told me before finally making a confession. “I’ll try to explain it,” he said, “and then I’ll end up saying what everyone else says when they can’t explain it. I’ll just say ‘There is no place like Nebraska…anywhere!’ This is my last year here. I want everyone in my family to come to one game here before I graduate. I want them to know why I’m here and why this is such a special place…a very, very special place.”
Lincoln Journal-Star Photo
NU’s Culture Ranges from Young to Old
Mitchell believes Big Red fans “love the culture of Nebraska football because I think we share our hearts and souls together here,” he told me. “I don’t know how to explain it, especially coming from Southern California. I just know it’s a great place. It’s crazy how much everyone loves our football team. I grew up with teams like USC, UCLA, the Raiders and the ‘49ers. The cultures are so different. You can’t compare them to a culture where everyone loves the team and bleeds their colors forever, whether they win or lose.
“You can’t appreciate how much energy Nebraska has until you get here, live here and experience it,” he said. “It has the same effect on kids much younger than you as it does on adults much older than you. It’s their bond, their tradition, their culture. It all really does draw you in. There’s nothing close to it. I’ve heard players who win the Super Bowl say it wasn’t anything like the love they felt winning the national championship here. Nebraska fans are so passionate. They don’t just like you because you play here. They like you because you’re here and part of the program, the school, and the entire state. Everyone here comes together as one. That’s why you finally learn it’s not about you. It’s about everyone around you and helping them live up to the tradition that’s been built for decades and decades. I’ll miss this place when I’m gone, but when this senior class leaves, the fans will still be here, and so will the passion, the players and the coaches. I know one thing. Whenever I get the chance, I’ll be coming back here, just like everyone else.”
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