Hitting it big in Texas

NEATE SAGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

Scott Mitchell is a dual citizen -- hockey country and football country.

Two seasons with the Rice Owls have left the Manotick native with a trace of a Texas accent. It all comes with being the left tackle for one of the most prolific passing teams in the NCAA. Rice hosts Western Michigan next week in the Texas Bowl (Dec. 30, 8 p.m., NFL Network) in Houston.

"All my friends get on me whenever I'm home -- I just try not to say 'y'all' " Mitchell, 19, says. "Last year when I went home for Christmas, they were getting on me. Of course, when I go back, my friends down there say, 'You sound all funny.' It's just been back-and-forth."

FRESHMAN STARTER

The St. Mark grad -- whose older sister, Seanna, won a relay bronze medal at the 2007 Pan-Am Games -- got thrown into the deep end as a freshman starter last season. That was a good prologue for this fall.

"I was the smallest offensive tackle ever," Mitchell says of his first season, when he started the final five games.

"I think the lowest I played at was 247 (lbs.). Guys were bull-rushing me. I hadn't been in a weight program, so last year I was hanging on for dear life. I didn't know the plays. Now I'm comfortable with the playbook from front to back. I had a chance, during the off-season, to put on a lot of weight.

"Now I'm at 291, so when someone comes to bull-rush me, I'm a lot stronger. If they try to finesse me and do a 'rip' to the outside, I have the strength to keep my hips in position."

Mitchell had no small role in the Owls (9-3) enjoying their first nine-win season since 1949, no mean feat for an academically elite university with the second-smallest enrolment in major-college football.

Incidentally, the smallest school, Tulsa, went 10-3 this fall with Ottawa's Tyler Holmes as its left tackle, earning a bid in the Jan. 6 GMAC Bowl.

The Texas Bowl is at Reliant Stadium, where Rice often practises.

"I've got the jitters," Mitchell says of playing in a bowl. "I've got a million questions for the guys who've been to a bowl before. It will be big-time."

Mitchell is grateful for the support he received in getting started on his football path. He counts St. Mark coaches Paul Brown and Andy Castellairn as major influences. He's thankful that his parents, Bruce and Valerie, were there to taxi him around to practices and games, especially when he was playing with three football teams at once during his teens. His sister also set an example.

'INFORMATIVE' FANS

"I got a good appreciation for the dedication, what she needed to do to become successful," he says.

"She would have nine practices a week. She would wake up at 4:30 to swim, go to school, swim again, then do that all over again the next day."

All of that has led Mitchell down to Texas, where even an O-lineman commands a Q-rating.

"After the game, you go out to eat, and people you don't even know are coming up, with their Rice hats and shirts on, to ask you about the game," he says. "They're telling you about who you play next -- they're so informative."

Sounds like the life of a hockey player back home.


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