UK football: O-lineman Kevin Mitchell shakes off hard knocks

jsmith3@herald-leader.comNovember 28, 2013 

UK Football Team suit and tie head shots on Wednesday, April 17, 2013. Photo by Britney McIntosh | UK Athletics

BRITNEY MCINTOSH — UK Athletics

  • next game

    Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday

    Records: UK 2-9 (0-7 SEC), Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

    TV: ESPNU

If you made a list of every injury senior Kevin Mitchell has had while at Kentucky, it would be longer than he is tall.

And he's 6-foot-6.

"Bruised knee, I get stingers about every game," Mitchell rattled off the list recently. "Ankle injuries from last year against Florida, that gets tweaked every now in then, AC joints ache.

"Just little things: my shoulders hurt, just part of being an old guy and part of playing the line," the Cats' right guard said.

But through all of those aches and pains and many, many more he couldn't remember from the past four years, the senior hasn't missed a game.

Every time he was asked to play, he ran in dutifully.

It's a point of pride for Mitchell now, as he joins 15 other Kentucky seniors, who will be sent off on Saturday before the Cats take on Tennessee in their season finale.

Barring a meteor strike keeping him from starting his final career game, the Winston, Ga., native, will have started 24 straight contests.

"I have been fortunate that it hasn't been anything too serious," the soft-spoken Mitchell said. "You've got to play through some of the pain and some of the aches, that's just part of the game.

"Some things you just suck it up and you go."

Mitchell's quiet demeanor means he's often overlooked, but his coaches have noticed his toughness.

"Kevin Mitchell is playing through a lot of injuries," Stoops said. "He's done a good job just by toughness; not a real vocal guy but a good job. ... (He) has been solid all year and really has had a good attitude."

Offensive coordinator Neal Brown called the fifth-year senior a "good guy."

"He fights through," Brown said of the Cats' lone senior on the offensive line. "Football means something to him. The University of Kentucky means something to him."

Being a former offensive lineman at Kentucky himself, Mitchell's offensive line coach can't help but feel a kinship with his right guard.

"Never complains, he gets a bunch of reps in practice every day, just a tough guy," John Schlarman said of Mitchell. "Tough, hard-nosed, true grit type of guy and as on O-line coach, you appreciate that. As a former O-linemen, I appreciate that because that's the true essence of an O-lineman."

Something else Schlarman loves about Mitchell, whom he called a "throw-back, old-school type guy," has been the senior's willingness to be flexible.

"If you told him to go over and play guard, he plays guard; tell him to play tackle, he plays tackle," he said. "Whatever you need him to do and that's hard to find sometimes nowadays."

In 2011, Mitchell opened the season at left guard. Last season, Mitchell started all 12 games at right tackle and this season he's started 11 straight games at right guard.

Doesn't matter much to Mitchell where he plays, just that he gets to contribute. Through a rough 2-9 season, Kentucky's offensive line has helped the Cats' running backs rush for 4.6 yards a carry.

That flexibility has helped as Mitchell and his fellow seniors have struggled through losses and other disappointments.

"We've been through a lot as seniors," Mitchell said. "This is my third coaching staff. ... We've been through everything and it hasn't turned out how we wanted, but it's going to get (the underclassmen) ready for the future."

Mitchell and several of his fellow seniors have helped prepare the UK underclassmen for the future, too, Brown said.

Sometimes in their words, but lately through their actions.

"Guys like Kevin Mitchell, guys like Jordan Aumiller and Tyler Robinson, there are a couple other of those guys, who have done a good job of showing the young guys how to work and the mentality to have," the offensive coordinator said.

And Brown hopes the underclassmen will play for those seniors in their final game in a Kentucky uniform on Saturday.


next game

Tennessee at Kentucky

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Records: UK 2-9 (0-7 SEC), Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

TV: ESPNU

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog: ukfootball.bloginky.com.

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