By Andrew Johnson
He moved Mitchell to running back in Week 2, and inserted freshman Owen Swanson at quarterback.
“We had to figure out what was best for us,” Tanis said about the moves. “We wanted to get him (Mitchell) the ball more going downhill, and we thought Owen would be able to handle it.”
It turned out to be a great move for the Cardinals.
Mitchell, a 6-1, 205-pound sophomore, has exploded for an amazing 579 total yards in the past two weeks, while scoring or passing for nine touchdowns.
In Week 5 against Manistee, he piled up 300 total yards, rushed for four touchdowns, caught one TD pass and threw for a score in the Cardinals’ 50-28 victory.
Last week against Ludington, he ran for 196 yards and two touchdowns, and had 83 yards receiving and another touchdown.
Mitchell’s performance has helped Orchard View overcome an 0-4 start. The Cardinals will carry a two-game winning streak into Saturday’s Lakes 8 Conference matchup against Muskegon Heights, another improving team.
“Our first four opponents were very good, and their records show that,” Tanis said. “I think it all comes down to gaining confidence, and we started to do that in the Belding game (in Week 4). We had a little success, then the next week we were executing at the level we’re capable of.”
“It’s been nice, because a lot of people doubted us, but we use that as motivation to play better and excel,” Mitchell said. “I feel like our program is building up a lot, and this is just the start right now. We should be good by next season and make the playoffs.”
Despite his outstanding performance in the past two games, Mitchell seems pretty calm about the sudden success.
“I like that I’m getting the ball a lot,” he said. “I know the line will block for me, along with (senior running back) Jayden Day. I can always count on them.”
Mitchell says he may not have the fastest lateral speed, but thinks he makes up for it by running as hard as he can straight ahead.
“I think I’m more of a run-up-the-middle type,” he said. “I can hit the sideline, but people get scared when they see me coming up the middle.”
Tanis says Mitchell’s ability to be physical is what makes him such a solid running back.
“I think he’s a big, physical runner,” Tanis said. “He’s intimidating to look at, whether it’s blocking or running. He does have the speed to run away, but he’s got an overall combination of speed, power and size.”
It’s not surprising that Mitchell comes from a football family.
His oldest brother, Khari Cunningham, was known as “Big Country” when he played defensive line for the Muskegon Big Reds.
Another brother, Sam Mitchell, was the Cardinals’ starting quarterback the last two seasons, before graduating and enrolling at Ferris State University, where he plans to try out for football next fall, according to Mitchell.
“I know I have a big role to fill,” Mitchell said,about following his brother in the Orchard View program. “Sam was a big leader and was always on time. He was one of those people you look up to.”
Mitchell said he’s been playing football for the past 12 years, largely due to the influence of his brothers.
“Khari was always bigger than us,” he said. “It would be me and Sam versus him. We always won, but if you asked him, he’d make up something about us cheating because we played 2-on-1.”
While he’s only a sophomore, with lots of high school football still ahead and a lot of improving to do, Mitchell admits that he dreams of being a college athlete.
“I think about it every day,” Mitchell said. “I watch college football and I love to see them play. I want to go to college and play college basketball or football, but I believe I can excel at football more.”
Tanis agrees that he has the potential to play at the next level. And after watching him perform the past few weeks, the coach thinks he knows what his position might be in college – and it’s not quarterback.
“He has a heck of an arm, but I think at future levels they will see him as a running back,” the coach said.