In May of 2012, Connor Mitch lost out on a trip to the prestigious Elite 11 Finals. Then a senior at Wakefield High in Raleigh, he was a finalist at a regional event in New York City but finished behind Kevin Olsen.
ESPN officials who run the camp immediately began trying to line up Mitch for another regional tryout. Elite 11 head quarterback coach Trent Dilfer was on the phone with Mitch’s parents multiple times encouraging them to find a way to get Connor to this workout or that workout.
Every other time slot conflicted with this or that on his schedule, and he wasn’t interested enough in the spotlight of Elite 11 to juggle the rest of his life for another shot at it, his mother Janet said.
Now, Mitch is the sophomore starting quarterback for the South Carolina Gamecocks, and he’s got the same low-key approach.
“He’s calm, under control, consistent,” senior offensive lineman Will Sport said. “He’s not a guy that is going to yell… not yet anyway.”
Maybe things will change when the Gamecocks open the season Thursday against North Carolina in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, but for now Mitch is taking the whole thing in flamboyant-free stride.
“I just want to prove why they chose me as the starter,” he said Tuesday, shortly after being named the starter.
His approach will be as simple as his personality, he said.
“Just be the leader of the offense, making sure everybody goes where they need to, keep the ball moving and score points,” he said. “You always have to have faith in yourself as the leader of the offense.”
His teammates see that faith now more than they did in his first two seasons when he redshirted in 2013 and then backed up Dylan Thompson last season.
“Last year, I don’t want to say he didn’t care, but he wasn’t really into it being that Dylan was our guy,” junior wide receiver Pharoh Cooper said. “He had the feeling Dylan was going to play every game.”
That changed after the Independence Bowl, Mitch said.
“As soon as the bowl game was over, I had to go into the mentality that this was my team to lead and I had to take that into winter workouts and then spring ball and then fall camp,” he said.
He’ll lead it in his own quiet way, Wakefield High coach Rod Sink said.
“He’s not a rah-rah guy,” Sink said.
Mitch’s approach to the game is more process-oriented, Sink said. At Wakefield, Mitch ran a five-wide receiver spread offense.
“I gave him a framework and he was able to work within the framework,” Sink said. “By the time we got to his senior year, he just went out there and did his thing.”
Mitch could not have done his thing in South Carolina’s offense last year, he said. This year, he believes he can because of a greater knowledge of the system.
“Last year, I was there but I wasn’t fully there,” he said. “This year, I am fully there and it gives me a lot of confidence.”
Head coach Steve Spurrier is hoping so.
“He throws a beautiful pass, a catchable ball,” Spurrier said on his radio call-in show this week. “He has to make his mind work every play. Playing quarterback is not just throwing the ball. It’s where to throw, how to throw it.”
Mitch, who lived in Raleigh from his seventh-grade year on, will see plenty of familiar faces on the other side when the Gamecocks take on the Tar Heels.
“It’s going to be very awesome,” he said. “I know a lot of people on that team, too many maybe. It’s kind of a rivalry.”
He won’t get too worked up about it, though. He never does.
FIVE THINGS ABOUT CONNOR MITCH
1. Going deep
He threw for 12,078 yards in four years at Wakefield High School in Raleigh, N.C. It was the second-highest career total in state history when he graduated in 2012.
2. In his blood
His father was a quarterback and safety at Syracuse. His brother Ryan played quarterback at Maryland, and his sister Brittany played basketball at Duke.
3. Mr. Popularity
He had scholarship offers from Alabama, LSU, Auburn and North Carolina and eventually chose the Gamecocks over the Tigers.
4. Only six
He has thrown six collegiate passes, none against a Power 5 team. He was 2-for-4 against Furman and 0-for-2 against South Alabama last year.
5. The competition
He beat out junior Perry Orth and freshmen Michael Scarnecchia and Lorenzo Nunez for the starting job.