Jack Mitchell, the two-sport athlete who peaked in South Bend

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Daily file photo by Nathan Richards

Junior kicker Jack Mitchell steps up to boot the game-winning field goal in NU’s upset win at Notre Dame last season. Mitchell has not only aided the Cats on the football field, but he has also showed off his heroics on the baseball diamond.

Jesse Kramer, Reporter

Junior outfielder Jack Mitchell may not have blonde hair or a deep tan, but his laid-back personality fits the California stereotype well.

“Nothing really ever changes with him,” junior pitcher Reed Mason said about his teammate and childhood friend. “He’s a real even-keeled guy. … He doesn’t get too big of a head about anything.”

That attitude is one reason Mitchell is at peace knowing his greatest athletic accomplishment is most likely behind him. The San Diego native played the hero as a walk-on kicker in Northwestern football’s historic upset of Notre Dame in November, driving a game-tying field goal through the uprights at the end of regulation and a game-winning one in overtime.

“I think I probably peaked in my athletic career at that moment,” Mitchell said.

Baseball coach Paul Stevens, who watched the victory live on television, was elated seeing one of his own players succeed.

“That’ll live forever. I don’t know if there’s anything in sports that could be more electric than what he did there,” Stevens said. “I basically turned to some people and said, ‘Boy, I’m glad he’s kicking the ball around so well here tonight, so that when he gets to baseball he won’t kick any more balls around.’”

Although Mitchell has avoided booting balls in the outfield, he has overall not seen much success in his junior season. After spending an early chunk of the season banged up, he has recently been hitting better.

Still, while he is fourth on the team in walks, his .227 batting average leaves much to be desired.

Even though Stevens acknowledges that football takes away time from when Mitchell could be working on his baseball game, the coach admires his player’s athletic passions.

“There’s nothing easy in his life. I respect the intestinal fortitude that he brings to the table,” Stevens said. “When he comes back in the fall, he does what he has to do in football. And he does what he can when he has time to do it with us.”

Mason also recognizes the work Mitchell puts in to be a two-sport athlete. The pitcher pointed out that, although Mitchell has a relaxed nature, the outfielder has another, more driven side.

“He’s as hard on himself as anybody I’ve been around,” Mason said. “He works his ass off, which is why he’s been able to be successful in sports at the collegiate level as a Division I athlete.”

In playing both a revenue sport such as football and a less popular sport such as baseball, Mitchell has seen two sides of the college athletics.

While football may seem like the harder sport because of the spotlight attached to it, Mitchell commented on the difficulties of baseball’s arduous travel schedule. NU spent the first 10 weeks this season on the road.

Another large difference between the two sports is the attention they each attract.

“You get upwards of 50,000 people in a football stadium,” Mitchell said. “At least at our (baseball) park, there’s probably 200 or so.”

NU’s smallest home crowd at a football game last season was easily above 30,000. Mitchell played in front of more than 100,000 fans at Penn State, and 80,795 people watched him shock the nationally ranked Fighting Irish.

Mitchell was quiet when asked if any moment could ever match the jubilation he experienced in South Bend.

“I can’t even imagine,” Mitchell said, before trailing off.

Mitchell has played the hero on the baseball diamond as well. Last season, he was called in to pinch hit in the bottom of the ninth inning against Chicago State and hit a game-winning single.

But Mitchell said that moment does not come close to his Notre Dame experience, and nothing in his athletic career likely will.

“It’s nothing like it is in football, especially at Notre Dame on a huge stage in a historic stadium,” Mitchell said. “It’s euphoria. Absolutely. I’ve never felt that before.”

Whether in front of thousands on the gridiron or hundreds on the diamond, he doesn’t expect to feel it again.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @Jesse_Kramer

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