Mitchell keeps Nevada running
By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Brandon Masuoka
He is the jewel of the Western Athletic Conference and a treasured member of the Nevada Wolf Pack football team as it prepares for Saturday's Sheraton Hawai'i Bowl.
This season, Nevada running back B.J. Mitchell was the leader of the Pack (8-3, 7-1), which won a share of the WAC title and its first bowl berth in nine years.
The 5-foot-8, 210-pound senior from Loomis, Calif., rushed for 1,221 yards on 238 carries, and ran for more than 100 yards in six games. He scored 11 touchdowns and was named the team's MVP.
Nevada coach Chris Ault called Mitchell the "heart and soul of our offense."
"I think B.J. not only represents a good running back, but what it means in terms of off-the-field, he's a leader," Ault said. "I can not tell you how valuable he's been in that locker room when the going gets tough."
This is Nevada's first postseason game since the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl, where it beat Ball State, 18-15.
"This is a first-time experience for me," said Mitchell, whose team has gone to a luau, frolicked at Hawaiian Adventures Water Park, and visited Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. "I'm just taking it as it comes. I'm still in football mode. I can't really sit down and reflect on how we did because I'm still so focused right now.
"We've got one more game," Mitchell continued. "Winning is very important. That's why we're here."
Mitchell said he wanted his teammates to enjoy themselves, but not get sidetracked for Saturday's game.
"They can have fun, and hang out and go swimming, and do stuff on our free time," he said, "but when it's time to practice, whatever happens out there doesn't come on to the field."
Mitchell credited his teammates for helping him win the WAC Offensive Player of the Year award. He even thanked his defense for stopping opposing running backs so he could win the conference rushing title.
"I feel undeserving because everybody contributed to it — my coaches, my O-line, my defense ... I'm very honored for the award," said Mitchell, who is majoring in journalism, and dreams of hosting a radio or television talk show.
Mitchell does not have lightning speed, but he makes up for it with grit, passion and a physical running style.
After Nevada's 30-23 victory at San Jose State on Oct. 1, in which Mitchell rushed for 114 yards — the first 100-yard game in his college career — Ault praised Mitchell.
"B.J. has got a heart bigger than his body," Ault said. "He played as hard as any back that I have had."
Later that month, Mitchell was asked what his 40-yard dash time was by a Wolf Pack Quarterback Club booster. He replied: "Four ... ever." The gathering laughed.
Mitchell said his goal out of high school was to become a good collegiate football player. Now, he hopes to play in the NFL.
"It's a childhood dream to play at the next level," Mitchell said. "I believe I have the potential to play at the next level. I don't feel I have reached my potential."
Ault earned his sixth conference coach of the year award this season. He said Mitchell and his teammates were big reasons for the accolade.
"No coach wins it himself," said Ault, who has served 21 years as Nevada's coach and compiled a 176-73-1 record. "You win it because you've got good players and because they do a nice job for you. B.J. as a senior has been through a lot. He stood up and was accountable. We're a very young ballclub. Sixty percent of our team is freshmen and sophomores. So you need somebody to say, 'Here's the way to do it,' and B.J. was the guy."
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