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Keys to the Game

Spartans Will Need to Get Past Mater Dei Linebacker Mitchell

September 22, 1998|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He is the heart, soul and nerve center of the Mater Dei defense. He calls the formations, charges forward on running plays, drops back in pass coverage and seems to be in on every tackle.

On Saturday, Kevin Mitchell will be one of the key players De La Salle must neutralize to beat Mater Dei. And Mitchell will have to play one of his best games for the Monarchs to end the Spartans' national record 78-game winning streak.

"When I heard we were going to play them, I got real happy," said Mitchell, 17. "We'd like a chance to try and break the streak. And if we wind up going down, that's the way it goes."

Although he's only 6 feet and 218 pounds, Mitchell is one of the state's top college defensive prospects. Penn State has already offered him a full scholarship, and he is being pursued by Colorado and Arizona State.

He first attracted attention at Mater Dei as a freshman in 1995, when the coaching staff used him on special teams. By his sophomore year, he was a starter.

"In his first four games as a starter he had two interceptions, three caused fumbles and two recovered fumbles," Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson said. "I kept thinking, 'He has to cool off.' But he never did."

Last year as a junior, Mitchell had 89 unassisted tackles (17 for a loss) and made the Times' all-county first team. He's off to a strong start this season: 11 unassisted tackles (two for a loss) in the victory overt Fresno Clovis West, and 10 tackles against Bellflower St. John Bosco and a caused fumble.

"Kevin will go down as the greatest linebacker we have ever coached," Rollinson said. "He is the whole package--instinctive, a vicious hitter, and plays the game like on the highlight films of old. He does things you cannot coach. He shoots gaps, locates the football and explodes."

Off the field, Mitchell shows none of that aggression. He's soft-spoken with an easy smile. On the field, though, he is all business.

As a starter at Mater Dei, Mitchell has only played in one losing game, last year's Division I championship match against Long Beach Poly. The Jackrabbits had two excellent running backs in Herman Ho-Ching (now at Oregon) and Larry Croom (now a senior).

Mitchell expects to see the same quality of players in De La Salle running backs Atari Callen and D.J. Williams.

"I don't doubt [Callen and Williams] can do the same things," Mitchell said. "And when you have to play against two backs, you know they are going to get yards. You have to try to keep things to a minimum.

"That means you maintain your area of responsibility, and you trust the guy next to you is doing his job."

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