SMU senior linebacker Jackson Mitchell remembers every detail from the August 2015 team meeting that changed his football life.
Mustangs coach Chad Morris had a police officer show up and make a fake scene about an office break in. When he started explaining to his team what was stolen, instead of listing items, Morris produced two scholarships — the first for fifth-year senior QB Garrett Krstich and the second for Mitchell.
“I FaceTimed my family from the team meeting room to tell them, and they were all screaming on the phone,” Mitchell said. “No question that is the top moment of my career.”
Coming out of Southlake Carroll, Mitchell had an offer to play for the Air Force Academy, but he chose to stay close to home and walk on at SMU. He worked hard to earn his scholarship spot, and he rewarded Morris with 38 tackles, four for loss, two forced fumbles, and two quarterback hits while playing in all 12 games as a junior.
“I definitely made the right decision to come and play here at SMU,” Mitchell said. “Our coaching staff led by coach Morris is incredible. They are genuinely great people as well as great coaches. It’s truly a blessing to be surrounded by these guys every day.”
Mitchell’s drive has earned him much more than a scholarship. This season, he serves on the team’s six-man leadership council and was voted a team captain as well.
Each week this year, Mitchell has fought through pain to play. It started with a hamstring issue in the first game, a win against North Texas. As the Mustangs (2-4, 0-2 American) have fought through losses to Baylor, TCU, Temple and Tulsa, Mitchell has been in the training room getting daily treatment for multiple aches, including his ankle and shoulder.
After a bye week, however, Mitchell is finally healthy heading into Saturday’s home showdown against No. 11 Houston (6 p.m., ESPN2).
“This season has been a great learning experience,” said Mitchell, who has played in all six of SMU’s games this season with 11 tackles and two pass breakups. “The season, from a team standpoint, hasn’t gone the way we envisioned so far. But we still have our goals in reach. There is a lot of football left to be played. I think our team has a lot more that we haven’t shown yet.”
Houston bounced back from a tough loss at Navy to defeat Tulsa 38-31 last week. The Cougars’ balanced offense, led by quarterback Greg Ward Jr., averages 42.7 points per game.
“Houston is a great team with really good skill players and a really good quarterback who has improved tremendously from last year in his ability to hang in the pocket a bit longer and make good throws instead of just tucking the ball and running,” Mitchell said. “We approach every opponent the same, and our biggest opponent is always ourselves. We just need to limit our mistakes and the rest will take care of itself.”