During his tenure at Torrey Pines High School in San Diego, Jack Mitchell excelled at wide receiver, safety, punter and kicker. He was also one of the best players on TPHS’s baseball team, earning Athlete of the Year honors for the school in 2012.
Mitchell got looks from Boston College, Duke and Northwestern to play football. With a chance to play wideout and kicker with the Wildcats, Mitchell set his sights on Evanston. Yet the biggest turning point of the freshman's young collegiate career came in the summer of 2012, before he even arrived on campus. His hopes of playing receiver for the 'Cats were dashed when coaches told him to stick to kicking on the first day of practice.
Mitchell admitted he was disappointed. But when one door closes, another opens.
“I kind of always knew I was going to play football in college," Mitchell said. "Then when I realized I was going to be a kicker I said, 'why not play baseball?'”
After a tryout with Wildcat baseball head coach Paul Stevens, Jack Mitchell became the only two-sport athlete at Northwestern.
“Most people don’t believe it,” he said.
Nor should they. After all, the odds of becoming a college varsity athlete are already quite low. Mitchell has accomplished something only a handful of people in the entire country are capable of, and he's done it twice.
Only about 5.7 percent of all high school football players play in college, compared to 6.1 percent of baseball players. There are over 1.5 million high school participants in both sports combined.
Many students at Northwestern have had a hard time keeping up with college coursework without playing a sport. One can imagine that standard one-sport athletes have an even harder time juggling a schedule. A two-sport talent like Mitchell seems like a logistical nightmare.
Though he admitted two athletic commitments have left him with less time for social activities and school work, Mitchell has managed to keep up in all of his classes. The freshman even mentioned how his parents encouraged his decision to play both sports.
For Mitchell, football season is easier to manage because morning practices allow for schoolwork and relaxation in the afternoon. During baseball season, Mitchell won’t get back to his dorm until the evening, often times with a mountain of homework waiting for him.
“Fitz kind of excused me from all winter and spring workouts for football," he said. "I don’t know how I would have managed without that.”
Mitchell’s inevitable absence from both sports at times leads to comments from his coaches. He said that occasionally both Fitzgerald and Stevens will jab at him with playful remarks like “choose a side.”
While Mitchell doesn’t feel an alliance toward one team, he does feel closer to one of them.
“Because [baseball’s roster] is smaller, I would say there is a lot more interaction between everyone — upperclassmen and underclassmen,” Mitchell admitted.
However, Mitchell still loves the crowd on both teams.
“If they were both having a party, I would make an appearance at both of them,” he joked.
Only time will tell if Mitchell can maintain the mental and physical ware two-sport athletes must go through on a daily basis. It is too early to tell how Mitchell’s dual commitment will affect his kicking ability because the freshman redshirted last season in football. However, missed workouts and practices have not hindered the Mitchell’s performance on the baseball field.
Though he only started 27 of Northwestern's 48 games, Mitchell finished the season with 19 RBI, good for fourth best in the lineup, and two home runs, tying a team high. The freshman has established himself as the best bat in his class.
Still, there is plenty of room for improvement. With a .226 average and 24 strikeouts on the year, Mitchell needs to better his pitch selection. The raw talent is clearly there, he just needs to be more disciplined at the plate.
Committing to two sports in college is a lot, and if he wants to see his game develop at a high caliber in either sport, Mitchell might want to consider dropping one. Mitchell also won’t be a redshirt next year in football, which means committing more time and effort with a possibility of seeing playing time next year.
Despite the large time commitment and incredible amount of hard work, Mitchell has no plans of stopping his two-sport college career.
“There has been a couple [athletes] in the past that have tried doing [two sports] and quit after a couple years," he said. "But yes, I’m definitely going to keep doing it”