QB Mitchem, Defensive End Arrive Here With Accolades
When a Division I college football program signs a junior-college player, it’s normally with the expectation — or at least the hope — he can contribute right away.
Sometimes the answer turns out to be yes; sometimes it’s no.
Mike Mari and Doug Buckmaster likely would admit to being prejudiced when it comes to the talents and potential of two players they coached in junior college who, as of Monday, are enrolled at the University of New Mexico.
Still, they make a strong case for quarterback Clayton Mitchem, who played for Buckmaster at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in Miami, Okla., and for defensive end Brett Bowers, who played for Mari at Mendocino College in Ukiah, Calif.
Both players come to Albuquerque with gaudy statistics and a treasure trove of honors earned at the juco level.
Bowers, a 6-foot-3, 265-pounder, was credited with 16 1/2 sacks and 22 tackles for loss last season a sophomore. He was an All-Bay Valley Conference selection.
Mari, Mendocino’s head coach last season — he since has relinquished those reins to focus on his duties as athletic director — calls Bowers “gifted. He has a lot of things a lot of guys don’t, and he’s worked hard to make what he’s been given better. … He really sells out to make himself the best player he can possibly be.”
Mitchem, 6-1 and 180 pounds, was the Southwestern Junior College Football Conference Player of the Year this past season. He threw for 2,435 yards and 27 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions, and rushed for 728 yards and 11 TDs.
Buckmaster, Mitchem’s offensive coordinator at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, calls his former QB “that run-pass threat that a lot of people are looking for in today’s college football world.”
Talent is one thing, performance another. But Mari and Buckmaster are confident the players they’re sending to UNM have the goods — not just physically, but mentally as well.
Mitchem, Buckmaster says, is one of the toughest players he has coached.
“When (teammates) know that he’s taking a lot of hits in a game, taken a beating in a game and he comes out for practice and you know he’s hurt, that earns their respect.” Buckmaster says.
“(Mitchem) had that respect, and the kids looked up to him.”
Mari described Bowers as a coach’s dream with, if anything, an overdeveloped sense of responsibility. He wound up at Mendocino out of high school because his brother had played there, but also because he was undersized and not an academic qualifier.
“He was only 210 pounds coming out of high school, and now he’s a 265-pound monster,” Mari says. “He was a late bloomer, but boy has he bloomed.”
Mitchem is from Fort Smith, Ark., but chose to attend Spiro (Okla.) High School because he wanted to play quarterback and not wide receiver.
“Not a whole lot of people knew about him,” Buckmaster says. “He kind of had a so-so junior year and then really came on as a senior. When I watched him on video I said, ‘This kid can play, and we’ve got to get this kid.'”
Both players, if their junior-college coaches have them pegged right, could fill a vital need for the Lobos.
Last season, UNM ranked 85th nationally in quarterback sacks with 21.
“Brett’s an edge player,” Mari says. “He really destroys one side of the field.”
On the other side of the ball, the Lobos, 4-9 last season, ranked 119th — next to last — in passing offense and 116th in pass efficiency.
Buckmaster says Mitchem, while adept at running the ball off the read option, is also a skilled drop-back passer.
“Clayton’s got a very strong arm, a very, very strong arm, to go along with his running ability,” Buckmaster says. “He’s just that double-threat guy.”
THEY’RE ALL BACK: A roster updated by UNM on Monday, the first day of spring-semester classes, shows that all of the Lobos’ eligible scholarship players from last season have returned.
Add one more in the person of offensive guard Johnny Vizcaino, who left the team and withdrew from school in October. Vizcaino has returned to the team. He did not play in a game last season and will be a redshirt freshman in 2013.
Bowers and Mitchem are joined by fellow junior-college transfer David Guthrie, a 5-10, 198-pound junior safety from College of the Siskiyous in Weed, Calif.
Reno Henderson, a sophomore offensive lineman from New Mexico Military Institute who signed with UNM last month, is not listed on the roster. Greg Archuleta, UNM’s sports information specialist for football, said Henderson has not been cleared academically.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal