As a four-star recruit and a Southwest Virginia native, James Mitchell was one of last year's most anticipated arrivals but Mitchell didn't have much a role early in the season outside of special teams.
However, Mitchell started to play more and more on offense as the season went along and though he didn't have a reception, it became clear by the end of the season that there was no reason for the hype around Mitchell and his future to fade whatsoever. Even before Chris Cunningham's transfer cleared the way for him to become the #2 tight end, Mitchell seemed to already be positioning himself to surpass Cunningham to claim that role.
Since then, James Mitchell has continued to prove to his coaches and teammates, including starting TE Dalton Keene, that the hype surrounding him is real.
"We have James Mitchell. All the hype about him is legit 100%. He's one of those guys that he was given everything he got, great athleticism, but also one of those guys that is a super hard worker, shows up every single day. He's someone that I would feel really comfortable having playing next to me," Keene said at ACC Kickoff
Of course, the growing excitement surrounding Mitchell became clear in the lead up to Spring Game with Justin Fuente showering praise on Mitchell who kept on going without limit during spring practice despite dealing with a broken finger.
"James Mitchell has had a great spring. I’ve talked about him a bunch times and he has a broken finger and he had surgery on it," Fuente said days before this past spring's Spring Game
Now the fact that Fuente was addressing about quarterbacks and felt inclined to mention Mitchell, the Hokies' #2 tight end, was an encouraging, early sign about his development. Of course, Mitchell dealing with a broken finger wasn't ideal but the fact that he still kept impressing in practice despite the injury made a statement about his talent level being able to overcome an injury that doesn't necessarily affect athletic performance.
Despite the injury, Mitchell wasn't hampered in this past year's Spring Game making several catches
and emerging as a respectable threat in the passing game for the Hokies. Combine him with Dalton Keene and the Hokies will have the option to use some jumbo style formations without being hamstrung in the passing game.
Mitchell's strong spring and Spring Game performance unsurprisingly didn't go unnoticed by the Hokies' head coach.
"He's incredibly smart. He's a great worker. He comes from a great family. He's very talented. He knows what he needs to work on to continue to become a better player. He's not a finished product by any means, but he can do so many things. He's very valuable," Fuente said after the Spring Game
Fuente wasn't the only with plenty of praise for James Mitchell after his Spring Game performance either.
"That kid’s going to be special. James (Mitchell) – he’s a big, physical athlete. He’s one of the fastest
players on the team and he’s playing tight end. It makes him very versatile. We can put him out
wide. We can have him block. I’m really proud of that kid and what he’s doing. He has a bright
future ahead of him," Ryan Willis said.
While Mitchell projected as a receiving tight end, his development as a blocker has been one of the most encouraging things for the Hokies and part the reason why a large role seems inevitable for Mitchell this upcoming season in addition to helping him earn playing time late last season.
Mitchell also should benefit from having an offseason to heal up his broken finger with Justin Fuente excited after the Spring Game to see Mitchell at 100% (along with his versatility).
"I'm really anxious to get through this spring, get that finger healed up, have a great summer and enter fall camp and see how many different places we can put him," Fuente said.
Mitchell's versatility due to his development as a blocker will give the Hokies plenty of options. Both Mitchell and starting TE Dalton Keene have developed into complete players who could be set up on the line or moved into the slot. Keene has shown the greater versatility, but having Mitchell prove to be at least a competent blocker along with a plus athlete and intriguing receiving option gives VT some additional sub-package options that Brad Cornelsen may not have been able to use to expand his playcalling options.
Additionally, VT can go with some big receiver combinations against smaller secondaries using both Keene and Mitchell plus Damon Hazelton and Tre Turner to give smaller DBs nightmares about having to guard any one of these tall receiving threats. Combine that with the fact that none of four are seniors (along with starting slot receiver Hezekiah Grimsley and top backup WRs including Phil Patterson and DeJuan Ellis), and VT has a loaded receiving corps that has the potential to scare teams for years to come.
Of course, James Mitchell still has to show it on the field to remain among that group but given the continued excitement from Fuente and Willis in the spring to Keene at ACC Kickoff, it's pretty clear that Mitchell is poised to turn all the hype into even greater excitement for Hokie fans this fall.
Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
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