RIDGEFIELD — Because he led the state in receptions last season, many overlooked Jackson Mitchell’s skills on the other side of the ball. A fierce linebacker with an ever-running motor made the Ridgefield star a coveted and versatile recruit.
Some schools liked Mitchell with the ball in his hands after seeing the way he racked up yards after the catch as a junior. Others preferred the way he treated opponents in possession of the ball.
Mitchell brought a pragmatic view to the process: “Wherever it gets me on the field, I’ll play,” he said. “I like defense because I like to play aggressive.”
That approach was one of the reasons Mitchell recently gave a verbal commitment to play at the University of Connecticut. His designated position by the Huskies? Athlete.
It is perfectly fitting.
“Most schools were looking at me for defense, but for UConn it is both and they are undecided,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell will have his final season with the Tigers to give the Huskies a greater body of work to make a more informed determination.
One thing is certain: UConn was able to keep one of the state’s best players home.
“They stayed on him well,” Ridgefield coach Kevin Callahan said. “They contacted Jackson and his parents almost on a daily basis. They loved to have him in camp and saw he could do well on both sides of the ball, so they are titling him an athlete. I think Jackson at the bottom of his heart was thinking UConn all along, and all of a sudden after talking to all these schools you get the offer from the one you fell in love with in the first place, so I think he wanted to get on it.”
Mitchell said some of the other schools that interested him included Fordham, Villanova and Colgate.
“I always wanted to play at that level of football and every time I visited there it was great,” Mitchell said of UConn. “I love the coaches and the team so I was really excited. When I first visited it really clicked and I looked at other bigger schools and I was waiting to see what happened with them, and when UConn offered I talked it over with my family and decided.”
Mitchell finished with 80 receptions and 13 touchdowns for the Tigers, averaging over 14 yards a catch. He also scored on an interception return, part of a defense that gave up just under 15 points a game.
Ridgefield ended up 7-3 and just missed qualifying for the CIAC playoffs. The losses came against two eventual state champions — Darien and St. Joseph — and Greenwich, which was defeated by the Blue Wave in the Class LL final. The Tigers lost a big second-half lead against the Cadets and played the Cardinals down to the wire.
“I always wanted to play at that level of football and every time I visited there it was great. I love the coaches and the team so I was really excited. When I first visited it really clicked and I looked at other bigger schools and I was waiting to see what happened with them, and when UConn offered I talked it over with my family and decided.”
— Ridgefield’s Jackson Mitchell
Mitchell also started on the school’s basketball team. Since the season ended, Mitchell said he has trained at BlueStreak in Stamford to improve his speed and agility, and now with the Tigers in the weight room. Last week they went to a camp at Central Connecticut.
Mitchell comes from a family of athletes. His father Tom played football at Hofstra. His sister Mackenzie is on the Wesleyan soccer team.
Callahan admitted it is difficult to predict where Mitchell might play at UConn.
“For me it’s hard to say because he started for me on defense as a sophomore and led the state in receptions last year offensively,” Callahan said. “So at the high school level he has been very productive on both sides of the ball. I would say if push came to shove and because of his mentality he is probably a defensive player. He plays very aggressive and very hard. He’s a physical kid, he stands up to people he plays against. He can definitely be finesse but he likes to get after it a little bit.”
Mitchell said he is happy to have the decision behind him.
“I really wanted to get it over with so I could focus on the season and not have to worry about recruiting or any of that kind of stressful stuff,” Mitchell said.
The Tigers’ outlook this year is uncertain. For the second straight year they were hit hard by graduation losses. There are a number of starters to replace, including at quarterback.
“I think this year I’ll show a little bit more because I’ll probably get double covered on offense so I can do my thing on defense,” Mitchell said. “I think there are a lot of people that are going to step up this year. A next-man up mentality. There are a lot of guys who are working hard and ready. We’re just going to add some wrinkles here and there on our offense and our defense to try and make space and get our guys the ball and then we just have to execute our plays. It’s going to be nice, my last season playing with all my friends. I’m just looking forward to that.”