The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

January 19, 2014

Mitchell Foote parlayed redshirt into solid debut season at ESU

Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The first time former Enid Plainsmen Mitchell Foote stepped on the collegiate gridiron at Emporia State (Kan.) he caught a touchdown pass.

“We had this play, and that’s the only time I was supposed to go in was when we were on the goal line,” Foote recalls of the five-yard touchdown pass from former Ponca City standout quarterback Brent Wilson in a 34-21 win over Nebraska-Kearney in the 2013 home opener.

“They said ‘Mitchell go in’ and I went to the opposite side I was supposed to go,” he continued. “I was just so enthused. They tell me ‘no, go to the other side. So I go in there, line up and Brent (Wilson) ... just puts the ball right where it needs to be and I just go up and make the play. It was just the greatest feeling. You know, you actually made it to college and you are doing something. It was a dream come true, playing college football.”

Foote, in his two years at Enid, set the Plainsmen all-time marks for career receptions (102), receiving yards (1,552) and receiving touchdowns (19), as well as  receiving touchdowns in a season (15 in 2011). Catching touchdowns was a common sight for Big Blue fans when Foote was on the field.

But to assume Foote enrolled at Division II ESU and immediately set about scoring touchdowns, would be wrong.

It was the culmination of a year of learning, watching and overcoming injury.

Foote was asked to redshirt in his true freshman year before the start of the 2012 season by Hornets head coach Garin Higgins.

“I was a little upset about it,” Foote admits. “I think that’s anyone’s mindset when you leave high school and go to college. You want to go in there and compete and you want to start.

“But then again, I knew this was a learning process and it would be a good opportunity to learn from the older players.”

The most difficult thing for Foote, besides not playing, was not traveling with the team as a redshirt.

Instead of letting it get him down, Foote said he made the most of his redshirt season by improving himself on the field and getting his academics down.

However, the learning curve from high school to college was steep.

“My biggest thing was I needed to learn the game more,” the 20-year-old Foote said. “It was a lot faster than I expected. Coming from Kremlin (playing 8-man) to Enid was a big transition, but going from Enid to college was a huge transition. I was spinning in circles and had my moments of wondering am I really capable of doing this? That redshirt year really helped me and going into spring ball (this past season), I knew it was right for me.”

One of the biggest things he worked on was running his routes. “In high school I used to cut (the routes) a little short,” he said. “I wasn’t really coachable in my routes. Then when I got into college, I knew that if I wanted to get the ball, I had to do things right.”

He also used the time to focus on his studies. “You have a lot of time to work on your academics and stay on top of those,” Foote said. He said he is maintaining a 3.1 GPA overall.

Higgins, entering his eighth year as ESU’s head coach, also noted the dedication Foote showed.

“He took advantage of that redshirt year,” Higgins said. “He stayed here during summer and did all of the right things.”

However, doing the right things still isn’t a guarantee against other potential setbacks.

During spring ball prior to  the 2013 campaign, Foote hurt his knee, tearing the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), which set him back a bit and kept him at less than full throttle.

“He wasn’t able to finish out spring, we were worried it was an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), but thankfully it wasn’t,” said Higgins. An ACL tear could have derailed Foote for another season.

“It took about four months and didn’t feel comfortable until the end of the season,” Foote said. “It still bothers me now and then.”

Higgins said the knee slowed Foote, “but we saw the best of Mitch after the fourth or fifth game.”

It was the fourth game of the season against Lincoln that Foote got his first start and he caught one pass for an eight-yard touchdown in the Hornets’ 52-14 road win.

It was a sign of things to come as Foote became more comfortable. He started the last three games of the season, including ESU’s playoff loss at No. 5 Minnesota-Duluth, one of the few down moments in a 9-2 season for the Hornets.

Foote finished his redshirt freshman year as the team’s fourth-leading receiver with 26 catches for 323 yards and two touchdowns.

“Redshirting helped me out tremendously,” Foote said. “I didn’t want to redshirt, but look at me now. I’m making plays.”

Higgins sees good things ahead for Foote.

“Spring is going to be big for him,” Higgins said. “He has unbelievable hands and can catch anything around him. I saw him make some catches when guys are all around him. You just have to throw it around him and he will catch it.”

Higgins has been one of Foote’s biggest mentors. “He will call me into his office and we will have conversations about things, not just football, but about life,” Foote said. “He’s a great man.”

Foote is looking forward to the upcoming season with Wilson returning at quarterback for his junior season. The Ponca City product had nearly 3,000 yards passing and 33 touchdowns, leading an offense that averaged more than 40 points per game.

“I see tremendous talent coming back and our recruiting class is phenomenal,” Foote said. “And if Brent Wilson stays healthy, we can go a long way.”

It’s an outlook shared by Higgins. “He has a real connection with Wilson,” Higgins said.

The Hornets finished 9-1 in the rugged Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association, were ranked 14th at season’s end, making the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

“It (making the playoffs) was a great experience,” Foote said. “I never made it to the playoffs before, but it was a tough loss (55-13) ... now I want to win a national championship.”

Foote sees football in his future beyond college, and says the atmosphere at Emporia State fuels that desire.

“We’ve got  …  NFL scouts that come to our practices,” Foote said. “That’s a confidence-builder and a motivational thing. It’s always been a dream to reach the NFL.”

Higgins believes Foote has an opportunity to continue to raise his game.

“He has a great, competitive demeanor,” Higgins said. “He has a high ceiling. I know he is going to succeed.”δΌ±