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Tough Enough

Newest Giant played through potential career-ending knee injury at Tennessee.

By Michael Eisen, Giants.com

 

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April 5, 2007

 

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. � The Giants might not know how good Jason Mitchell is going to be, but even before he�s participated in one practice they are certain how tough he is.

 

�You only get to live your college dream once. I felt I should give it all I can for the last time. I don�t regret it, because I got to run through the T for the last time. After that, that chapter in my life was over, I didn�t want to have to think back and say, �I wish I would have done this� or �I wish I would have done that.'"

- LB Jason Mitchell Mitchell is a linebacker who was signed by the Giants this week. He did not play football in 2006, because he was rehabbing a knee injury he had suffered the previous year as a senior at the University of Tennessee. This was no ordinary injury. In the 2005 season opener against UAB, Mitchell tore both the medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in this left knee.

 

But his season�s story doesn�t end there. Really, it was just beginning. Despite the pain and unsteadiness in his knee, despite coaches and players who urged him to sit down and despite a brother in the NFL who wanted him out of uniform, Mitchell strapped on a brace and stayed in the lineup.

 

�My defensive coordinator, John Chavis, said I didn�t have to play anymore, because I had proved to him and everyone else that I could play football,� Mitchell said. �My brother (Brandon, who played for New England and Seattle in an eight-year career) said I shouldn�t play at all. But I felt like playing, so I played.�

 

He did so knowing further injury could jeopardize a potential NFL career and perhaps inhibit his ability to lead a full life at the conclusion of his career.

 

�I thought about hurting my chances to make the NFL and about tearing up my knee completely and not being able to play with my future kids,� Mitchell said. �That crossed my mind. I prayed every day and put my trust in God that I wouldn�t tear my knee up any worse. It actually helped. I was blessed I didn�t tear anything else.�

 

But he could have. Which begs the question: why do it? Why put so much at risk with so much at stake, particularly since he had graduated with an economics degree four months before suffering the injury?

 

Mitchell stayed on the field because he felt tremendous loyalty to the university, his coaches and teammates. He knew no greater thrill than running through the giant T formed by the Tennessee marching band prior to each home game. You know the phrase �leaving it all on the field?� Mitchell was determined to do just that, even if logic suggested he shouldn�t be there in the first place.

 

�You only get to live your college dream once,� Mitchell said. �I felt I should give it all I can for the last time. I don�t regret it, because I got to run through the T for the last time. After that, that chapter in my life was over, I didn�t want to have to think back and say, �I wish I would have done this� or �I wish I would have done that.� I wish I could have finished with two degrees instead of one. Besides that, football-wise I�m content.�

 

Despite the injuries, Mitchell contributed 32 tackles (18 solo), a sack, two passes defensed and a forced fumble in his senior season. Asked if he played well, Mitchell said, �In spurts. My coach, he had a lot of trust in me. My knowledge of the game got me through a lot of stuff. But if I was a healthy person I could have done a lot better than I did. There were things I just couldn�t do because of the knee.�

 

In his four-year career, Mitchell played in 49 games with 26 starts for the Volunteers. He recorded 165 tackles, including 114 solo, five sacks, 13 tackles for 43 yards in losses, six forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Mitchell�s finest season was his junior year in 2004, when he started all 13 games and had 57 tackles (41 solo), two sacks and 5.5 tackles for losses.

 

�When you talk about Jason Mitchell and the contribution he made to our program, he took it upon himself,� Chavis said in an email. �He and his family made the decision to play and, obviously, he was putting team first. He wanted to be able to play his senior year, but it just showed tremendous character and courage for someone to play with the amount of pain he played with all year. I can�t imagine very many people doing that. He�s one of the very elite few that could possibly do that.

 

�Without a doubt, he deserves the opportunity with the Giants. They will find out they have a great athlete and a great football player. I won�t be surprised to see him playing a lot of football on Sundays.�

 

Mitchell hurt his knee on Sept. 3, 2005, in a 17-10 victory over UAB. He was trying to fight off an offensive tackle when teammate Jessie Mahelona swung his leg around and hit the outside of Mitchell�s knee. An initial exam revealed the torn MCL. Mitchell played two more games before the injury to the ACL was discovered.

 

But instead of stepping to the sideline, Mitchell chose to stay on the field. In practice, he would do exercises that strengthen the knee while his teammates did individual or position drills. Mitchell would then participate in the team portion of practice.

 

�I didn�t want to leave on somebody else�s terms,� he said. �I wanted to leave when I felt I was ready, even though it cold hurt me in the long run. My love for the game and my love for my teammates and my love for the university kept me going. I just played through it.�

 

On Nov. 21 � two days after the Volunteers� final home game � Mitchell underwent surgery to repair the knee. Because of the injury, no NFL team seriously looked at him prior to the 2006 draft. So Mitchell headed home to Abbeville, La. First, he worked in the family burial business. �Once people get to the cemetery, we dig the hole or put people in the vault,� Mitchell said. In December, he took a construction job. The hours after work were devoted to strengthening his knee.

 

�I�d work from 8 in morning to five in the evening, then rehab for two-three hours after I worked,� he said. �My days were long.�

 

They were also a bit strange, because for the first time in more than a decade, a football season passed without Mitchell being a part of it.

 

�It was weird not playing football,� he said. �A lot of guys I played with and played against were playing. I�d call friends and say, �Good job.� It was hard for me not to play. It got to the point some times I wouldn�t keep up with it.�

 

After a long and arduous rehab, Mitchell was finally ready to show NFL scouts what he could do at Tennessee�s pro day on March 21. He ran and demonstrated his agility. Several NFL teams showed interest. He visited Green Bay, but the Giants talked to him first and most often. With uncertainty at linebacker, Mitchell thought this was the best place for him.

 

Mitchell is convinced he has the talent and is healthy enough to make the team. The biggest adjustment, he said, might be getting comfortable in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area.

 

�This is crazy,� said Mitchell, who visited the region for the first time this week. �I�m a country boy. They move too fast for me. I might get used to it eventually � hopefully, after a long career here.�

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Well I am sure they got him cheap and he is another body...who knows what can happen.

 

yeah thats how I feel at this point anything can happen . I mean the hell with all these big names whining about how they want outrageous amounts of money for mediocrity. why should we try to get other teams cast offs and head cases . We need to have the capacity to develop our players and build them up to fit out system and play style. All the big names had to start some where a lot of big names were no-names coming out of college. So who knows we may have some Diamonds in the ruff now and get more Diamonds in 3 weeks.

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And he is definetaly a TC kind of player. Staying on the field with a busted MCL and ACL?

 

Actually I have to question the sanity of a person who does that. I only partially tore my MCL back in January and just that hurt like a motherfucker for a few days before it only hurt bad if I twisted my knee...even today a lot of walking makes it sore.

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