By Dave Ruthenberg, Sports Editor
Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Enid junior tailback Raheem Mitchell enjoys a good challenge.
Earlier in the year, prior to Enid’s second game of the season against Edmond Memorial, much of the talk centered on Bulldogs tailback Warren Wand, who was receiving accolades not just for his on the field accomplishments, but also for his powerlifting ability.
During the week leading up to the game, Enid head coach Steve Chard put a note in Mitchell’s locker that mentioned Wand being able to squat 428 pounds. Mitchell, all 5-foot-5 of him, was not impressed.
“I can squat 500 pounds and that’s not really a lot of weight to me,” said Mitchell, who was among the top powerlifters in the state in his weight category (he is listed at 170 pounds). “I took it as a challenge. It was tailback to tailback.”
It was a challenge Mitchell won, outgaining Wand 131-98 yards as Enid picked up its first win of the year, 32-27.
Mitchell seemed to take it to another level this past Friday when he rushed for 253 yards, fifth-most in a single game in Plainsmen history, leading Enid’s comeback effort in a 28-23 win over Bartlesville. That evened Enid’s overall record at 2-2 and started the Plainsmen off 1-0 in district play. It was a performance marked by a pair of dazzling fourth-quarter runs of 75 and 27 yards, the latter of which resulted in a touchdown. Both provided Enid a badly needed lift after the Plainsmen trailed 17-6 at halftime.
It’s the kind of game that most young football players imagine having on their best days.
“I want to have a game like that every time I step on the field,” Mitchell said Monday after practice as the Plainsmen prepared for their first district road game on Friday against Tulsa Washington (2-2, 0-1).
Enid running backs coach Kareem Sears can see that for Mitchell.
“I always look for him to do big things,” said Sears. “I see the 200-yard game, and even a 300-yard game from him.”
Sears said what makes Mitchell a special runner is his cutting ability and vision.
“He can see things that a lot of backs don’t see,” he said. “He’s so low to the ground and powerful. He keeps his legs going, he’s unstoppable.”
Mitchell wasn’t a starter last year, but Sears said they saw him doing things in team camp before this season that gave a hint of what may come.
“He was doing stuff other guys can’t do, making two guys miss in space,” Sears said. “He has a move where he dips his head and puts out a leg and goes the other way. I can’t even simulate it.”
Sears said running track was a key component in Mitchell’s development in the offseason.
“We just had to get him to believe in who he is and his ability,” Sears said. “Sometimes smaller guys doubt themselves. He had success in track and powerlifting, and that is coming out on the field.”
Mitchell agrees and likens his relationship to Sears as a “father-son” relationship.
“But when it’s time to get down to business, we get down to it,” Mitchell said. “He (Sears) played at college level (Nebraska) and I want to play at college level. He gives me some pointers and tells me what I need to do.”
That includes trusting in his blocks and not being so quick to bounce things to the outside.
“I’ve always been the fastest guy on my team,” said Mitchell, who has played football since fourth grade and said he has always dreamed of being a starting tailback in 6A, “so I bounced it out, but I find that in 6A that guys are my speed and even faster, so I have to keep inside a little bit.”
While Mitchell may be undersized, he has learned to use that to his advantage, running behind a big line and sometimes using his size to get lost in the scrum.
“All of them are like 6-foot and being 5-5 helps me,” he said. “I just run behind my blocks and find a hole. I credit my line. After a long run I’ll get around them and tell them ‘good job, I love you guys.’ I love running behind them.”
Mitchell also learned from another runner who many considered undersized, watching Seth Handley, who now is at East Central University, last year etch his name in the Enid rushing records.
“I watched and him asked him what he did and he told me to squat (lift) and push the sled and that’s what I did,” Mitchell said. “I worked hard in the offseason to get stronger. He texted me before the last game and told me to run hard.”
While his on-the-field mentor may have moved on, he still seeks out advice and encouragement from the current seniors on the team.
“Aaron Beagle and Alex Lofton tell me to keep my head up and run hard and I will get where I need to go.”
He also has a teammate that he is pretty close to, twin brother Shaheed Mitchell, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound lineman who is working hard to get more playing time.
“Sometimes we give each other encouragement,” he said. “I tell him to keep working hard and you will get your turn.”
Coming into the season, Mitchell said he did not expect to be the starter, knowing senior Raeshaan Finley was returning from a good junior season. But he said there are no hard feelings between the two.
“He told me one day in practice that he doesn’t mind because I am a good back,” Mitchell said. “I think we work together good as a tandem.”
Finley rushed for 50 yards last week, and sophomore Devin Pratt has been in the mix as well, averaging nearly six yards per carry.
“I have three pretty good running backs,” said Sears.
As Enid’s primary ball carrier, Mitchell already has rushed for 583 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. He also leads the team in receiving with 160 yards and a touchdown.
But while the individual numbers are nice, Mitchell said the bigger goal is to make the playoffs.
And motivation for that won’t have to come from a coach’s note.
“I really want that for my seniors, that would really make it a great season,” he said.