If Scott Mitchell has a familiar-sounding football name, it’s probably because of Scott Mitchell, a former starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions, and Scott Mitchell, the current president of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
But at Rice University in Texas, everybody knows the Scott Mitchell (left) you’re referring to. The Ottawa native started 38 consecutive games on the offensive line for the Owls after arriving on the Houston campus as a 17-year-old. Now, he’s poised to become the first overall pick in the 2011 CFL Canadian college draft, scheduled for May 8. Winnipeg Blue Bombers have the first pick, followed by Edmonton and B.C.
A pre-season All-Conference USA first teamer before his senior year last fall, Mitchell is rated No. 1 in the latest rankings by the Canadian scouting bureau, ahead of Calgary slotback Anthony Parker, whose father played for the B.C. Lions, and St. Francis Xavier linebacker Henoc Muamba. Muamba’s brother, Cauchy, a defensive back, was drafted by B.C. last year, in the fifth round.
Philip Blake, a centre at Baylor, fell to fourth in the latest rankings. The Toronto native had been rated No. 1 in the previous poll. Blake is returning to school for his senior year which, probably more than anything, accounts for the drop. Mitchell has completed his college eligibility.
“Scott Mitchell came to us as a defensive lineman, and we brought him in late [August],” says Rice assistant coach Darrell Patterson. “We could see his toughness right away. Because of injuries, we switched him to the offensive line and he was starting by the fourth game of his freshman year. He’s done a great job for us.”
Patterson, a Pennsylvania native, played seven seasons in the CFL as a linebacker with Winnipeg and Hamilton and he still uses contacts from his playing days to get a bead on Canadian high school recruits. Many are recommended to him through ex-CFL players or Ron Dias, a high school football scout who searches out Canadian players for the American market. Dias has sent more than 500 players south on athletic scholarships.
“He’s an unsung hero,” Patterson says. “Ron has probably done more for Canadian high school football players than anybody.”
Patterson has worked at Dias’ camps before, and it’s a reason why Rice seems to attract an inordinate number of Canadian players. In addition to Mitchell, DL Christian Covington (Surrey, B.C.), DL Hosam Shahin (Richmond, B.C.), TD Luke Wilson (Windsor, Ont.) and DB Tolu Akinwumi (Brampton, Ont.) also hail from Canada. Patterson includes his son, Michael, as an “honourary Canadian”, since the wide receiver was born in Hamilton, when his dad played there.
Owls safety Paul Porras also has a Canadian connection. His dad, Tom Porras, was a long-time CFL quarterback in the 1980s.
Academically, Rice rates alongside some of the best Ivy League schools, and its learning standards are another attraction for Canadian players, Patterson says.
“Canadian education ranks higher than schools in the United States, and Canadian students never seen to have any social or academic problems when they come here,” he says. “They have family backgrounds of discipline and structure.”
The Owls did lose one outstanding Canadian recruit — DE Arnaud Gascon-Nadon — who decided to return to his hometown of Montreal after a stellar sophomore year at Rice. Gascon-Nadon was a member of the Vanier Cup champion Laval Rouge et Or last season.
“Arnaud helped us win 10 games in two seasons, but he got a little homesick,” Patterson says. “I think it’s tougher for French Canadian kids to adapt to the culture here, especially when all their studies are in English. It makes the adjustment that much tougher.”
Here are the latest Canadian scouting bureau rankings:
• 1. Scott Mitchell (OL)
Rice, 6’4″, 295 lbs.
• 2. Anthony Parker (SB)
Calgary, 6’2″, 215 lbs.
• 3. Henoc Muamba (LB)
St. Francis Xavier, 6’0″, 230 lbs.
• 4. Philip Blake (OL)
Baylor, 6’3″, 315 lbs.
• 5. Tyler Holmes (OL)
Tulsa 6’4″, 330 lbs.
• 6. Vaughn Martin (DL)
Western Ontario (San Diego Chargers), 6’4″, 330 lbs.
• 7. Nathan Coehoorn (WR)
Calgary, 6’2″, 220 lbs.
• 8. Hugh O’Neill (P/K)
Alberta, 6’2″, 185 lbs.
• 9. Marco Iannuzzi (WR)
Harvard, 6’1″, 195 lbs.
• 10. Moe Petrus (OL)
Connecticut, 6’2″, 292 lbs.
• 11. Matt O’Donnell (OL)
Queen’s, 6’10″, 329 lbs.
• 12. Junior Turner (DL)
Bishop’s, 6’3″, 230 lbs.
• 13. Anthony Barrette (OL)
Concordia, 6’5″, 320 lbs.
• 14. Matt Walter (RB)
Calgary, 5’10″, 210 lbs.
• 15. Paul Swiston (OL)
Calgary, 6’9″, 342 lbs.