{FSMETA} College Football: Rivals.com - College Football

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June 5, 2008

Mitchell's comeback key for LSU

Everyone knows the numbers.

LSU was sitting in 11th place in the overall Southeastern Conference standings with a 6-11-1 record. It was questionable if the Tigers were going to qualify the league tournament.

Since the end of the series with Georgia, LSU has won 23 consecutive games. The Tigers finished second in the SEC regular season and then won both the conference tournament and the Baton Rouge Regional.

But, that team resurgence has been matched by an individual comeback.

In mid-April, Jared Mitchell found himself sitting on the LSU bench. Freshman Leon Landry had taken over for Mitchell in centerfield. In a one-month span, Mitchell started just four times and had only 20 at-bats.

A tenth-round draft pick by the Minnesota Twins coming out of New Iberia's Westgate High School, Mitchell's athletics career was at a valley.

"That was definitely the low point of my career, being here and not playing," Mitchell said. "Guys were asking me what was going on about me not playing.

"A lot of family members called me. I told myself all things happen for a reason. I just had to keep working hard and not quit."

Mitchell, who was the starting centerfielder as a freshman, saw his performance on the baseball field dip while he was participating in spring football practice. Following the SEC-opening series at Tennessee, was hitting just .279.

Mitchell had nearly three times more strikeouts (13) than runs batted in (5). LSU coach Paul Mainieri made the decision at this time to put Mitchell on the bench.

"I told Jared that he was not playing well," Mainieri said. "His life was tumbling with so much going on with football, baseball and going to school. I told him that I was not going to play him until spring football was over. I would put him in there now and then."

Mainieri kept his word. In the next five weeks, Mitchell saw very little action. He had six at-bats in SEC games during that stretch. Mitchell didn't hit the field in the three-game series against Georgia.

"It was real tough during that time," Mitchell said. "Playing baseball was what I was coming out and working for every day. Then, you're told that you're being put on hold.

"Playing two sports is hard. But, everybody wants to think he can do everything. Playing two sports is less demanding than physically. But, it's more a mental thing."

However, Mitchell's situation would change on the Monday after the final game of the series against Georgia.

"Jared came to me the day before the Tulane game (the day after the last Georgia game)," Mainieri said. "Jared told me that he was ready to play. I asked him why I should play him. He told me that he was working hard and ready to go."

That answer was not what Mainieri wanted to hear. Mainieri told Mitchell to come back to his office in 30 minutes, two hours or the next day when he had a reason for him to play again.

"Jared came back to my office in 15 minutes," Mainieri said. "He told me that I should play him because he can make a difference in the team. That was what I was waiting for. Jared wasn't talking about himself. He was talking about what he could do for the team.

"Jared had to come to grips with playing leftfield. He's done that and he's played great in leftfield. Jared has a great amount of talent. He's a great kid."

Mainieri put Mitchell in the starting lineup in leftfield against Tulane. Mitchell had two hits - a double and a triple. The Tigers started that 23-game winning streak against the Green Wave with their come-from-behind 8-4 victory.

"I just went out against Tulane and played," Mitchell said. "I let my talents take over. I just wanted to have fun."

Mitchell has started 21 of 23 games in the winning streak. During that stretch, Mitchell has hit .345 with nine doubles, four homers and 19 runs batted in. He has scored 25 runs and stolen eight bases. Mitchell's defense in leftfield has been exceptional.

"I'm playing a lot better now," Mitchell said. "I'm a lot more relaxed. I seem more secure with what I'm doing."